Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hastening to salvation: The Octave of Christmas

A little after 6:00 am, the azan floated into my bedroom and into my consciousness. I decided to heed its call, and hasten to my salvation. Not, of course, to acknowledge the "Last Prophet," but to worship the Triune God, to celebrate the Octave of the Feast of the Incarnation of His Son, and to honor His mother, Mary most holy, ever-Virgin, the God Bearer.

So, I got ready in time for the 7:00 am instead of the 8:00 am Mass. Of course, by the time I made a cup of masala chai (trust me, caffeine in the morning is not a luxury! Especially if I have to drive!) and checked my email, it was already 6:40, so I forwent taking a shower in order to get to church on time. The 'rents were aghast - "You're going to pray unbathed?" It's an expectation of ritual purity that seems to be pretty common across many religious traditions. "Aa Hindu puja nathi," I replied. This isn't a Hindu puja.

As I head out onto the largely deserted roads, past bicyclists bundled up against the (to me) pleasant mid-60 temperatures, the first streaks of grey and pink are breaking through the light morning fog.

There were about 30 or 40 people scattered throughout the church (the number doubles by the time it comes to Communion), and, it seems, about half-a-dozen or so mosquitos assigned to each congregant. Mass was low-key, over in about 35 minutes. My prayers centered on strength for our family. I really did zone out during the brief homily though, more because I was still sleepy. One would have thought that at such an early morning Mass, we'd have been spared the keyboard. But no, it was there, with a lone cantor who bravely tried to sing for the entire congregation, accompanied by a spectacularly off-key older gentleman, who also felt that he needed to say the responses loud enough for the entire church to hear.

After Mass, a line formed to venerate baby Jesus in the manger scene at the altar, garlanded by flashing electric lights. I joined in, paid my respects, and then prayed in front of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Happy New Year y'all! May this one bring us closer to that salvation we all so deeply long for, when there will be no more pain, and every tear will be wiped away.

Signing off ...

Was going to go to the 11:00 pm Eucharistic Adoration followed by Midnight Mass to ring in the New Year. I decided it was more prudent to get some sleep and not provoke my inflamed sinuses anymore. (And, before I knew it, it's past 11:30 pm. Sheesh.)

In the morning we're off to Goraj, about 40km from here, the site of a pretty well known cancer radiation facility. The 'rents will be staying at a cottage there during the week. Keep those prayers coming!

On Tuesday evening I fly back to Delhi, and Wednesday night, back to the US. I'll probably check back online in Delhi ... but if not, see y'all on the flip side. Of Asia, um, and Europe ... and the Atlantic too!

Unrest among the Swiss guard?

This just showed up in one of my news feeds ... don't have time to dig more deeply into this, to get more background. The Independent story is a bit gossipy, and of course tensions and personality conflicts are to be expected in the Guard as in any other military body. I guess that's news?
There is mutiny afoot in the Vatican's Swiss Guard, the world's smallest but probably most pampered army.

The focus of discontent at the barracks is what many papal bodyguards see as the heavy-handed policies of the current commanding officer, Colonel Elmar Theodore Mader, who has banned men from holding the traditional year-end parties on the terrace atop their barracks. Even senior officers have been forbidden to give cocktail parties, say Vatican sources.

Ordinary guardsmen are angry that rules preventing them from staying out at night in Rome after midnight are being rigidly applied in the holiday season while Capt Mader himself is frequently out at parties until the early hours of the morning.

This is really troubling!

Rocco links to a report that reveals that eighty five percent of US dioceses have detected embezzlement in the past five years. And that's not the worst of it. Yes, we all know the Church is as human as any other institution. But surely, a little more oversight of matters financial is called for by our Bishops. Especially since the money (or a huge chunk of it) comes directly from the generous donations of the faithful?

So tell me ...

... why is the New York Times the newspaper of distinction in the land? (Via Amy) ... the Times fesses up to some serious oversights in its reporting on abortion in El Salvador -- they profiled a woman who was supposedly jailed for having an abortion. Turns out, it was because she had murdered terminated her child after birth.

Holy Family: Angelus address

[After breakfast this morning I logged on to read the Holy Father's weekly Angelus address. Then I remembered I was in India, and it was still about 5:00 am in Rome! Heh.] From today's Angelus address, in front of tens of thousands in St. Peter's Square.
The pope first greeted “families of the world, wishing them peace and love that Jesus gave us, coming among us at Christmas.” Then he explained that “in the Gospel, we do not find speeches about the family but an event that is worth more than any word: God wanted to be born and grow up in a human family. In this way, he consecrated it as the first and ordinary path of his encounter with mankind.”

All the values of family life – obedience, social and religious education, mutual dedication – are found in the Holy Family. “In the life spent in Nazareth, Jesus honoured the Virgin Mary and the just Joseph, submitting to their authority for all the time of his childhood and adolescence (cfr Lk 2:51-52). In this way, he highlighted the primary value of the family in the education of the person. Jesus was introduced to the religious community by Mary and Joseph, going to the synagogue of Nazareth. With them, he learned to undertake the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as narrated by the gospel passage proposed by today’s liturgy for our meditation. When he was 12, he stayed in the Temple and his parents took three days to find him. With this gesture, he made them understand that he had to ‘tend to his Father’s business’, that is, the mission entrusted to him by God (cfr Lk 2:41-52).”

Indian member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Saturday's TOI has a very brief interview with K Kasturirangan (former chairman of ISRO and a current member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's Parliament), who was recently appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
What is the work and mission of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences?

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences promotes work in the field of mathematical, physical and natural sciences; stimulates inter-disciplinary approach to scientific knowledge; promotes the public understanding of science and provides authoritative advice on scientific and technological matters. Candidates are nominated by established academicians and proposed by an academic body, after which they are shortlisted from among the most eminent scientists and scholars of the mathematical and experi-mental sciences listed under every country of the world. The final recommendations are then submitted to the Pope for appointment.

Is it easy for a man of pure science to work with the same Church that condemned Galileo?

Well! That was a different age and day. Modern science has evolved from those times and those events. We now live in an age where talking of science and religion is fashionable among the learned and the scholarly. I think this is also because we are now in a position to use our knowledge of science to gain deeper insights into matters of religion.
I had no idea that there have been four members of the Academy from India. [Incidentally, there's a member of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences who's also of Indian origin, Dr. Partha Dasgupta, an economist at Cambridge U. And also a family friend.]

Feast of the Holy Family

8:00 am Mass (English), Cathedral of the Holy Rosary,
Vadodara (Baroda)

Attendance was sparse as the Mass began, but (again, not an uncommon phenomenon in India), the church was almost full by the time the homily was over. It was nice to hear Christmas carols sung -- we're still in the Octave of Christmas after all. (This is where I went to Mass through the summer, and the music, among other things, is what occasioned this lament. I'm not going there again) The young priest chanted the various dialogues throughout the liturgy, which certainly helped counteract a bit the rhythmic noises emanating from the electric keyboard. It's quite startling, for instance, going from a chanted Preface to the keyboard's "dhinchak" (to make recourse to Bombay slang) as a prelude to the Sanctus (which, invariably, is this one praise & worship hymn, "Hosaaaaaaaaanna, hosaaaaaaaanna, hosanna in the highest ... "). Oh dear, I wasn't going to go there ...

The homily starts out by reminding us that this feast was instituted by Pope Benedict XV in 1921, but then focus on biblical images that serve as role models of family: the heroic mother from Maccabees, who watched her sons be martyred and encouraged them, rather than ask them to break God's law to save their lives; Jonathan and David, "whose souls were so closely united ... two bodies, one soul" as models for sibling relationships (Not an unwarranted interpretation by any means; however, I tend to think of them as models of friendship, transcending biological family relationships. Jonathan, afer all, in a sense, betrays his own father, to help David); Ruth and Naomi, mother-in-law and daugther-in-law, sas-bahu, whose love for each other transcended ethnic and national boundaries. Truth be told, I had never juxtaposed this story with the mother-in-law - dauther-in-law relationship in Indian culture. The sas-bahu trope is one that has deep resonances in Indian family life -- the bahu who is the outsider to the family, the one who steals the beta (son) away from her mother, and the tyrannical sas who will never really accept this; the bahu who, despite all her suffering, turns into a tyrannical sas herself. (One of the longest running and wildly popular soaps on Indian TV is called "Kyonki sas bhi kabhi bahu thi", "For the mother-in-law too was once a daughter-in-law". As far as I know, every female in the family was addicted to this show.) The contrast with the biblical story could not be more startling.

It was also rather nice to hear a homily that focused so clearly and closely on biblical images and themes. Yes, every homily is (or is supposed to be) focused on the Scripture that the Church has chosen for that particular day. This one very consciously tried to bring the biblical characters and stories directly to bear on contemporary situations - or better still, inviting our lives to be influenced by, and shaped by the world of God's word.

Mass is over in just under an hour, and I exit outside through the throng waiting for the 9:00 am Gujarati Mass to begin.

The notice board outside has, among other things, a large photograph of a beaming Pope Benedict on a Vatican Radio poster, another large poster of conferences at the Divine Retreat Center in Kerala, and a flier in Gujarati offering advice on how to gain/lose weight.

Frankly, I always approach this Feast a little timidly. The Holy Family is certianly a model ... but models of family also vary so much across cultures and across time. (Don't you think in the US today the Mary and Joseph would be booked for parental negligence, and Jesus carted off to DSS, if they forgot about him for a couple of days while traveling back home from a pilgrimage?) This is not to deny the need to defend and encourage the traditional family, especially in the West -- only to note how different family realities can be. Just ponder the "Hindu joint family" for instance -- whose reality continues to pervade and define Indian family life, long after joint families have made way to the realities of modern, Westernized urban life. In the West, I am always taken aback by how loose and how frail family ties seem to be. (And at least two generations have now grown up in the shadw of no-fault divorce). Talking somewhat disdainfully of one's family, ("man, I love Christmas, but there's only so much I can take of my family!") or pop-psychologizing "family-of-origin" issues seems to be a common cultural phenomenon. This is, of course, in contrast to the centrality of family in Indian culture, and close-knit family ties that are at the heart of Indian family life. Not that I'm romanticizing Indian family life -- often the outer veneer cloaks dark areas such as domestic violence or worse (think Monsoon Wedding).

In the New Testament, Jesus relativizes biological family as well -- most radically in Mark 3, when his biological family think he is crazy, and he declares that the "one who does the will of my Father is my brother or sister or mother." I would think that Christianity casts the family into a new context, the context of the ecclesia, the family of Christ, bound together not by blood, but by the ties of water and the Spirit. Within the bosom of the Church there are communities of religious men and women who live out this bond in a visible and radical way -- they leave their earthly families to form communities that are devoted to living out the evangelical counsels, communities that become their families. (Or so the theory goes. I am, after all, merely a novice ... :-))

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with all of this ... just some ruminations on a warm winter afternoon on the Feast of the Holy Family. Today my prayers have been focused on my own family, for strength and perseverance as we face my dad's cancer together.

[Interesting reflection here on today's Feast from a seminarian. Part 2 doesn't seem to have been posted yet. Salvation begins at Home: The Holy Family and the Analogia Entis.

Battlestar Rumors

[Hat tip to St. Izzy] Galactica Direct-To-Video Movie Set To Launch at .. and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that the story line has dissipated a bit in Season 3 ...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Blech ...

Well, I've developed all the symptoms of a cold or sinusitis ... runny nose, sore throat and a mild fever. Not good with a transcontinental flight looming next week. Spent one half of the day running around as we get ready for dad to start radiation on Monday. The other half was spent sleeping.

I hope I feel better in the morning (it's 10:00 pm now here) ... I'd hate to end this year and/or start the next missing Mass!

And I'm not entirely thrilled that this happened today either. :-| The coverage on Indian TV, however, makes me retch. Images of celebrating Sh'ias in Iraq and protesting Communists in Delhi. It's all about evil America, how Saddam was once a US ally and so on. The genocidal nature of his reign glibly glossed over. Well, I suspect everyone will view this through their own ideological lenses. The Pope's spokesman, Fr. Lombardi has called the execution "tragic." And I'm sure heads are (yet again) exploding all over the Catholic blogosphere over Cardinal Martino's latest. [::update:: I forgot to link the URL of Cardinal Martino's response to the execution of Saddam Hussein. Chris Blosser has a good round up of some of the debate going on in the blogosphere on his remarks, as well as the larger question of church teaching on capital punishment.]

Friday, December 29, 2006

Gamecocks trounce the Cougars!

44-36 in what appears to have been a really exciting game! (Thanks, Dogwood for the detailed quarter-by-quarter emails.)

And Clemson lost to Kentucky, despite their last minute heroics! :-)

A nice birthday present to wake up to!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A religious awakening

I mean that literally.

In summer, my bedroom window here is normally closed, since the a/c is on. In winter, it's left open, to let the cool night breezes waft in, while one is snug underneath a razai. At 5:30am, a lone bass drone wafts in on the breeze -- "Om bhurbhuvahaswaha tasaviturvarenyam ..." The Gayatri Mantra, one of the holiest of Hindu mantras. Obviously, one of the neighbors performing his morning puja. I turn over. Then, shortly after six, a nearby loudspeaker cranks up, as a throaty muzzein sends forth the azan the call to prayer across the still dark sky. Within seconds, more distant mosques follow, and for ten minutes the air is full of the cadances of Qu'ranic chant, proclaiming that God is great, that Mohammed is his prophet and reminding the faithful that prayer is better than sleep.

For some reason, there seem to be more azans afloat, so to speak, this morning. Ah yes, it's the jummah, Friday.

In India, religion is, quite literally, in the air.

The Holy Innocents

Do read Amy's reflections on today's Feast.

GO GAMECOCKS!!!! Eat those cougars!!

Tomorrow the Gamecocks face off against the Houston Cougars in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis TN. The match starts (The match? Hello? I must have cricket on the brain!) Kickoff is at 3:30 pm Central ... which is ... [gulp] 3:00 am IST on Dec. 30. Hopefully when I wake up on the holy day (you know, the anniversary of my birth. ... What? Me, pretentious? Nah ... :-p), the first birthday present will be a GAMECOCK BOWL VICTORY!

And Ryan C -- don't get too silly with your buds out in Memphis. I need you to stay sober enough to recollect the game so you can relate it to me when I'm back Stateside!


[Hmm, it's neat that the Liberty Bowl has a designated charity that it supports by giving it "international exposure." One can hope that this also includes a goodly sum of greenbacks as well?]

Spirit-filled religion: Pentecostals (from the Economist)

I've been happily perusing the Holiday special double-issue of The Economist, always a good read, and exceptionally so with this issue. I think I could blog about every article. There are several I'll probably end up talking about, but here's the first one ... a neat survey of Pentcostal Christianity, which is one of the fastest growing forms of Christianity across the globe. [In October, the Pew Forum published a widely-quoted survey on Pentecostalism, or "renwalist movements" as they call the phenomenon. It's worth a look.]
IN 1906 Ambrose Bierce, one of America's finest satirists, published a guide to bullshit, “The Cynic's Word Book” or, as it was later rechristened, “The Devil's Dictionary”. Bierce reserved his sharpest barbs for religion. To pray, he said, is “to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy”. Religion is “a daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable”. For Bierce, Christianity was an antiquated superstition with no place in the modern world.

In the same year an itinerant black preacher arrived in Los Angeles. William J. Seymour was “disheveled in appearance”, blind in one eye and scarred by smallpox. He was also on fire with a vision—that Jesus would soon return and God would send a new Pentecost if only people would pray hard enough. He began to preach from a makeshift church in Azusa Street, in a run-down part of town. Soon thousands joined him. People spoke in tongues, floated six feet in the air, or so we are told, and fell to the floor in trances, “slain by the Lord”. The faithful prayed day after day for three years on the trot, and dispatched dozens of missionaries abroad.
Yet, with the possible exception of Europe, history has moved in Seymour's direction rather than Bierce's. The great secular ideologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries—from Marxism to Freudianism—have faded while Seymour's spirit-filled version of Christianity has flourished. Pentecostal denominations have prospered, and Pentecostalism has infused traditional denominations through the wildly popular charismatic movement.

Today there are more than 500m “revivalists” in the world (ie, members of Pentecostal denominations plus “charismatics” in traditional denominations). In a recent survey of Pentecostalism, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life argues that “renewalist movements” are the world's fastest-growing religious movement: the World Christian Database shows that renewalists now make up about a quarter of the world's Christian population compared with just 6% 30 years ago. The evidence of this can be seen everywhere in America and the developing world: in churches the size of football stadiums in Latin America, in 12,000-acre “redemption camps” in Nigeria, in storefront churches in the slums of Rio and Los Angeles. LA's most successful export is not Hollywood but Pentecostalism.

Pentecostals believe in things that set Bierce's teeth on edge. The Pew Forum made a particularly detailed study of ten countries. In all ten large majorities of Pentecostals (ranging from 56% in South Korea to 87% in Kenya) say that they have either experienced or witnessed divine healing. In eight of them majorities say that they have received a “direct revelation from God”. In six countries more than half believe that Jesus will return to earth during their lifetimes—and in all ten more than 80% believe that the faithful will be gathered up before the end of the world and transported to heaven.
This being the Economist, whose coverage of religion always has a little of that secularist smugness (-- "wow, people actually still believe in all this kind of stuff!" --) about it (well, "smug" pretty much sums up the publication's attitude, doesn't it?:-)), they try to hone in on various explanations for the phenomenal success of Pentecostalism, including, of course, economics ...
[Adam] Smith offers a third view: that Pentecostalism thrives because of the effects of competition. Whereas the Catholic Church is a would-be monopoly, Pentecostals create thousands of competing churches. The barriers to entry are low—almost anyone can set up a church—but the pressure to perform is relentless: if you can't preach a mesmerising service, people will go elsewhere. “We have to work against the competition as well as the devil,” says a young preacher.

One result of this is that Pentecostalism draws on the full talents of the population. The Catholic Church is perpetually short of priests, not least because it limits its recruitment to well-educated celibate males. But Pentecostal churches have a genius for elevating charismatic sheep from the flock. They are particularly good at using female talent. Women not only fill the pews. They get up and testify. And they are increasingly becoming preachers in their own right—a particularly striking development in patriarchal Latin America.

Another result is that Pentecostalism is wonderfully innovative. What other Christian movement can produce churches with names like the Mountain of Fire and Miracles (in Nigeria) and the Church of Christ's Spit (in Brazil)? And what other religious movement can produce “hallelujah robotics”—a sort of frenzied dancing and chanting? Churches also make aggressive use of modern media. With its charismatic preachers, dramatic testimonials and miraculous cures, Pentecostalism is telegenic.

Many churches are therefore superb businesses—honed by competition and obsessed with expansion. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil, which was only created in 1977, has more than 2m members today. Its founder, “Bishop” Edir Macedo, owns one of Brazil's largest television stations as well as radio stations, newspapers and a football team. The “cathedral” of the Jotabeche Methodist Pentecostal Church in Santiago, Chile, can seat 18,000. The Yoido Full Gospel Church is the biggest church in the world: every Sunday 250,000 people turn up to worship.
Most ingriguing is the suggestion that Pentecostalism is simply a response to modernism, or rather, is one of the results of the encounter between Christianity and modernity ...
Peter Berger, the dean of sociologists of religion, argues that “Max Weber is alive and well and living in Guatemala City”. Pentecostalism is making dramatic advances among the upwardly mobile. One of the movement's central messages is self-respect—Pentecostals are “dynamite in the hands of God” rather than deferential servants. Relying on ordinary people to spread the word, the churches are particularly good at conveying the rudiments of management. They teach people to speak in public, organise meetings and, as they become more successful, manage large organisations. The bookshops in the mega churches are full of tomes on management as well as spiritual uplift.

This argument is far from perfect. Weber's God remained aloof whereas the Pentecostals' God reaches down to touch the human heart. Pentecostals are restoring much that the Puritans drove out of Christianity, such as visions, miracles and healing cures. It is clearly backward-looking as well as forward-looking—and in its worst forms it is a licence for fraudsters. Before he was caught with a prostitute, Jimmy Swaggart, an Assemblies of God minister, reached 500m viewers a week and attracted an estimated half a million dollars in donations every day. A number of Latin American preachers have a weakness for silk suits and fancy houses.
500 million is a lot of people ... so, this bears watching, for sure!

Catholic Coke

... ok, am briefly at an Internet cafe in Baroda (broadband is still down at the folks' place, and the dialup is painful) ... got a link to this in my inbox. There's no sound on the computer here, so I've no idea what (if anything) is being said, but this is just nuts ... :-) [Hat tip to Dogwood"]

Once I can hear it I might have some more commentary. ::PG-13 warning.:: :-)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sporadic blogging

A few hectic days coming up running around as we get things ready for dad to start radiation next week. So blogging will be slow ... and, besides, the broadband is down, and the dialup blows

Ho no den ee tow faghro deel

That's "This is my body" in Aramaic ... which is being kept alive in Maronite congregations in Minnesota. Fascinating article. (Hat tip to Amy)

The Protomartyr

Just as the world is recovering from an overdose of sentimentality and schmaltz, and putting away its tinsel and trimmings, the Church lifts up today, the very day after we celebrate the Incarnation, the feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr, the first martyr.

Religious martyrdom has a bad rap these days, and rightly so, since it carries the connotation of someone willing to kill others (more often than not innocents) in the name of his faith. It's important to recall that Christian martyrdom is completely different, and has always been so. A martyr gives his own life up and witnesses to the faith (and not by taking others with him, either). He is willing to die rather than abjure faith in Jesus.

In today's Office of Readings, the Church presents a selection from a sermon by St. Fulgentius of Ruspe (an early 6th century bishop of North Africa). Martyrdom has at its heart love ... "the way that leads to heaven," as he calls it.
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.
Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.
And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.
Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.
Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.
My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together. (Emphasis added)
And here is the Troparion for the Protomartyr from the Orthodox liturgy:
O Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God,
You are victorious in battle and crowned with glory, O holy Stephen!
You confounded the council of your persecutors,
Beholding your Savior enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
Never cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Natal mubarak!

(I'm on dialup, so trying to do the Devnagiri is a bit tedious ... it requires looking up various Unicode tables and what not ... )

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Buon natale!

I hope all y'all have an absolutely fantastic day and best wishes for the holy Season ahead. It's a bright, warm and humid morning here in Bombay. The flight from Delhi last night was about three hours late (fog, ATC congestion. The usual). I had a seat right up front near the bulkhead (with extra legroom. Hey, even Indian treats me well!), and that characteristic Airbus roar/whine as the engines spool up to maximum thrust on takeoff is just delightful.

I missed the night Mass my friends were going to (It started at 10pm. I landed at 10:15pm), but after they got back, hung out with Denzil & friends & wives (and sleeping kids) catching up, and stuffing ourselves on all kinds of delicacies (marzipan! choris pao!) till absurd hours of the morning. Woke up well in time for the 9:30 am Mass at St. Francis Xavier down the street ... one of the most low-key and rapid Christmas Masses I've been to, lasting all of 45 minutes. I guess being jet lagged helps. Who knows where the body clock is right now!

Now for a lazy day ahead hanging out in Bandra.

Puer nobis natus est! Gaudeamus igitur!

Advent IV: St. Augustine - Awake, mankind!

From yesterday's Office of Readings. I love the way he strings Scripture together! Read!
Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.
Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.
Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.
Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.
For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.
For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.
Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?
Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.


Advent IV in Delhi

At 7:00 am my four year old nephew barged into my room (I’d already been awake over an hour. Ah, jet lag!). “Uncle … come see the Christmas tree!” “My Papa put the lights up!” he chattered excitedly. It surprises my friends in the US no end, the extent to which Christmas is celebrated in India, where Christians make up only about 3 or 4 per cent of the population. Celebrating the festivals of one’s neighbors of different faiths is fairly common across the subcontinent. I would be surprised if Hindus or Muslims in urban India would be offended by someone wishing them “Merry Christmas.” They’d wish you right back! And with growing globalization, the celebration of Christmas and “the Holidays” is only likely to increase.

I thought I’d never make it to the 9:00 am at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Delhi. At 8:30 I was out on Mathura Road, with not a rickshaw in sight (I’m not really familiar with the geography of Delhi, and I’d rather not risk driving one of the bro’s shiny new cars). One finally appeared, but he wasn’t interested in going out to Gol Dak Khana (The Round Post Office, the landmark for the Cathedral). Several others passed by, but were occupied. Standing a few feet away from me was a gentleman in a suit and a Nepali hat, also, it appeared, waiting for a rickshaw. Darn. Competition! Another rickshaw slowed down, but the driver shook his head when I asked him “Gol Dak Khana jaogey?” Maybe I’m not familiar with the Delhi culture – in Bombay, when a rickshawalla or cabbie says no, they mean it. Perhaps here one is supposed to bargain? The rick pulled up in front of the Nepali gentleman, who was also wanting to go to Gol Dak Khana. He appeared to haggle with the driver, and then got in. I rushed up and asked if I could hop in as well. So, we were off in the hazy winter morning, the temps in the upper 50s, and a cold breeze buffeting the little rickshaw compartment.

Turns out the Nepali gent was from Darjeeling in Sikkim, visiting his son who lives in Bhogul, and was also headed to church – a CNI (Church of North India, i.e. Protestant) congregation not far from the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Within 15 minutes we were at the Post Office, and I hopped off, handing him twenty rupees.

The entrance hymn had just started, after which the celebrant’s introduction seemed to last longer than some homilies I’ve heard in the US. I told my “Mass Critic tapes” to shut off, and tried to quiet myself down to worship. The beautiful cathedral was almost full, with a riot of multicolored shawls draped around the women, the men in jackets or sweaters. A line of penitents lined the left and right naves, where priests sat behind small screens labeled “English/Malayalam,” hearing confessions. It’s a practice I’ve encountered in Italy – this was the first time I was seeing it in India. I’m a little ambivalent about the whole thing – smacks way too much of “sacramental magic” in my opinion (“get your confession in to get your Eucharist.”). It’s approved by the Holy See, however, and, it was nice to see so many people lined up for confession! Despite the lackluster and patently unrehearsed performance from the choir (hardly a surprise in my experience in India), the congregation sang with gusto. The homily was a beautiful reflection on the Visitation, combining several themes – the humanity of Christ, the role of His mother in the Incarnation, the ministry of John the Baptist, as well as talking about promoting a culture of life. I found myself praying for a situation I’m aware of (I can’t give more details, obviously), of a pregnancy that seems that it might end with the baby’s life being extinguished.

Just as the Eucharistic Prayer was starting, a young couple came in and sat on my pew (one of the few that wasn’t completely full). From their lack of familiarity with the responses and the rhythm of the liturgy, I surmised that they were not Christian. I would suspect that it was hardly unusual that many Hindus and even Muslims might show up at churches during Christmastide.

To distribute communion, in addition to the celebrant, there were a permanent deacon (still relatively new in India), a religious sister and a young Franciscan. As I lined up in the Communion procession, I noticed that the non-Christian couple was just ahead of me. She received the Host from the sister, who must have noticed something amiss (perhaps, the lack of the “Amen” response). “Are you a Christian?” she whispered. The lady shook her head. Sister gently took the Host back from her, smiled, and gave her a blessing. It was done very gently and smoothly, and if I weren’t just steps behind them, I wouldn’t have noticed.

The deacon read out the church notices, mainly services for Christmas and the following weekend. Christmas morning had an impressive line up of Masses, starting with a 7:30 am Malabar liturgy, 9:00 am in English, 10:15 in Hindi, 11:30 in English and even a 6:00 pm in English, all out in the grounds of the next door St. Columba school.

Mass ended with a Marian hymn, and, as seems to be normal in India, the bulk of the congregation remained behind in silent prayer. I slipped out a few minutes later. Outside the gates a host of hawkers had set up shop, with a variety of Christmas-ware spread out on tarps on the ground, mainly cards and tinsel. I picked up two Santa hats for the niece and nephew (she wanted Rs. 35 each. I absolutely loathe haggling; however, it is after all a question of izzat [honor], so I brought the price down by five rupees each.) and got into one of the waiting rickshaws.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Winter in Delhi

As I never tire of saying (especially when people react with horror at the thought of such a long flight), I really like the nonstop from Newark to Delhi -- I actually sleep on this flight -- this time I got about 8 hours on the 12h45m flight. Of course, that doesn't include nearly an hour on the ground at Newark after we left the gate, and another hour circling in a holding pattern after we arrived over the Indian capital. The Indian skies are beyond clogged, and hour-long waits to land are normal it seems. So, it's quite likely the two hour flight to Bombay tomorrow will become a three hour one ...

You think by now they'd be building some new infrastructure ... such as new runways and so on. Of course, it's easier said than done in Bombay where there isn't much room for growth.

Anyway, the long line at immigration moved pretty fast, and I was in a cab heading to the brother's house by about 1050pm.

Outside, it's a brisk 55F ... everone is bundled up, and there are space heaters and the like everywhere. Highs are in the 70s. Quite pleasant, in my opinion. Bombay will be at least 10 degrees warmer though ...

Oh, yeah, I just realized that I left my iPod in the plane. It had slipped into a corner of the seat when I fell asleep, and I forgot about it. DRAT. Someone on the cleaner crew got a Christmas present I guess ... I hope they like my taste in music. :: sigh ::

Friday, December 22, 2006

Latin Christmas Carols

... still not too late to enjoy your favorite carols, latine ... (courtesy our friendly-neighborhood Magister latinae, St. Izzy) ... Latin Christmas Carols.

Today's: Corde Natus Ex Parentis.

Baby got book

You've got to check out this parody of a famous rap song! (It was especially hilarious last night after a few shots of Three Wise Men in me ... :-))

Baby Got Book.


[Hat-tip to St. Izzy.]

Travelin' days ...

So the blissful week in Columbia draws to a close ... it's actually a little easier leaving this time than the last, and I suspect that will continue to be the case. Or so the voice of the shrink who gave us that workshop on "Transitions" last week assures me. Still, kinda sucks to think that the earliest I might be back will be June ...

I'm sitting at good ol CAE. The flight to Newark is delayed ... nasty weather down here, low ceilings up in the EWR area. I have the whole rest of the day however -- CO82 doesn't depart for Delhi until 8:50 pm. I'll be taking the train into the City and meeting up with RP.

Hectic traveling coming up. Here's the schedule.

Tonight, CO82 to Delhi, arriving Saturday 9:15p IST
Christmas eve in Delhi (making it to a morning Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the Fourth Sunday of Advent).

Afternoon of Christmas eve, IC622 to Bombay. (And I'll be flying Indian Airlines after ages.
Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's in Bandra at 10pm
Spend Christmas in Bombay with friends.

Dec. 26, the morning express train (Shatabdi) to Baroda.
Spend week in Baroda with the folks.

Jan. 2, 9W3704 to Delhi
Jan. 3 CO back to the US

Oh yes, I'm thinking of the frequent flier miles being racked up ... :)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Justitia Virtutum Regina

"Justice, the Queen of Virtues." That's the motto of good ol' Columbia, SC ... which you really cannot make out in this photo of the flag of the city in front of Bill's house.

It's so awesome to be back here! As is my wont, I'm spending pretty much every waking hour with various friends. Sunday afternoon we went to St. Peter's downtown to hear the Arpád Darázs singers give a Christmas concert. Quite delightful! Lots of hanging out at the beautifully renovated parish Center, watching movies and shootin' the breeze. And playing with the mutts. Went with the parish young adults to sing Christmas carols at a nursing home last night, with a cookies (and beer?) party afterwards ... I thought we sounded pretty decent!

And of course ... it's just beautiful down here -- 70s every day! Blue skies!

And those two awesome words of the Southern vocabulary: Sweet team tea! :)

In case y'all didn't figure it out, I'm in bliss!

[On a more somber note: one of our alums lost his mother very suddenly early Saturday morning. Please keep Casey and his family in your prayers, and pray for the repose of the soul of his mother, Pam. I'll be going up to St. Paul's in Spartanburg tomorrow for the funeral Mass.]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fr. Cantalamessa's sermon

Zenit has the full text of the Advent sermon given by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa to the Pope and members of the Curia. This is the one which called for a day of penance to atone for the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. As serious as that is, there is a lot more in the sermon as well, taking as its theme, "Blessed are you who weep now!" from the Beatitudes. The section on biblical interpretation was particularly significant, I thought.

Viva Don Camillo!

Julie at Happy Catholic has some excerpts and a tribute to Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo stories ... I discovered a copy of one of Guareschi's books lying in a corner of the Asiatic Society Library in Bombay years ago and devoured them all (or at least all I could find). I own one tattered copy of the "Little World of Don Camillo" and periodically return ... lots of deep wisdom, and laughs! I recommend them heartily ... go read about the Little World! Happy Catholic: Two Italian Hotheads and Jesus There's even a Don Camillo webpage out there (of course!) (Image courtesy of this website). Hat tip to Zadok for the link.

Zadok is on the money

when it comes to the Day of Penance proposed by Fr. Cantalamessa The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman: Day of Penance

Dueling clerics

Seminarian soccer ... :-) No clerical error: Vatican in soccer tournament - Soccer -

Friday, December 15, 2006

A call for repentance

Strong words from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household ...
Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher asked the pontiff Friday to declare a day of fasting and penance to publicly declare repentance and express solidarity with the victims of clerical sex abuse.

In a strongly worded lecture, he denounced the "abominations" committed inside the Roman Catholic Church "by its own ministers and pastors" and declared that the church "paid a high price for this."

"The moment has come, after the emergency, to do the most important thing of all: to cry before God," the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said in the first of a series of pre-Christmas lectures in the presence of the pope in a
Vatican chapel.

Cantalamessa suggested that the church "indicate a day of fasting and penance, at local and national level, where the problem was particularly strong, to publicly express repentance before God and solidarity with the victims."
I've admired Fr. Cantalamessa's preaching for years, and many of his sermons have been very powerful in my life. This report just raises him higher in my estimation even more. I hope we will see the full text of his sermon on Zenit or some other site soon! Pope's preacher calls for abuse penance - Yahoo! News

Another priest in Charleston ...

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, ordained yesterday at St. Mary's in Greenville by Bishop Baker. CONGRATULATIONS!

Links and details and his reflections on his journey at his great blog.

Fr. Dwight is a great addition to my home Diocese. (He's also the third married priest ordained in Charleston -- all three former Episcopalian/Anglican ministers)

What will they think of next?

Left Behind Games. Duck. The Raptor Rapture is coming.

Non sic impii, non sic ...

"Not so the wicked, not so ... "

In all these years I'd never heard a homily on the first Psalm ... until this morning. I've always found it to be a delightful text, and very fitting for the opening of the Book of Psalms. When I was a geeky teen, into (among other things) teaching myself calligraphy, I would pore over the illustrations of medieval illuminations. The beautifully illuminated "B"s of the first word of Psalm 1 (such as the above image) were a favorite ...
Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum et in via peccatorum non stetit et in cathedra pestilentiae non sedit sed in lege Domini voluntas eius et in lege eius meditabitur die ac nocte et erit tamquam lignum quod plantatum est secus decursus aquarum quod fructum suum dabit in tempore suo et folium eius non defluet et omnia quaecumque faciet prosperabuntur

Non sic impii non sic; sed tamquam pulvis quem proicit ventus a facie terrae; ideo non resurgent impii in iudicio neque peccatores in consilio iustorum quoniam novit Dominus viam iustorum et iter impiorum peribit

India's Street Kids Find New Lives as Tour Guides - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

A neat and fantastic story from Der Spiegel's daily international news bulletin.
Children living on the streets of Delhi, the Indian capital, are trying their luck as tour guides. By giving Westerners a closer look at the life of street kids, they are also helping themselves to escape from an existence of crime and poverty.

The train station's iron cupola towers above the huts, houses and bazaars of Delhi's Paharganj neighborhood. Cloth dealers from southern India step off the trains -- families carrying suitcases and jute bags. Tourists from the Far East and from distant Europe throng to the exit like everyone else. In the midst of the crowd stands 20-year-old Shekhar Saini. He's slim, with parted hair slicked to the sides with gel. He talks about his second life. It began right here, by track number 12.

Eight years ago he came to Delhi. A freight train took him from his village of Kalyanpur to the Indian capital on a journey that lasted one day and one night. He had run away from home, fleeing his parents who were poor and unhappy that their second son was already playing cards and drinking at the age of 12. Saini hoped for greater freedom in the big city. That's why he closed the books on his first life. He had dreams of a movie career and a life free of cares. But instead of becoming a star, he became a petty criminal and a glue-sniffer. He was one of the many street children who were always to be seen around the train station in Paharganj -- and who can still be seen there today.

The men and women from the Salaam Baalak Trust led him out of that life. The charitable association was founded by Indian director Mira Nair, who achieved wealth and fame thanks to her film "Salaam Bombay," which tells the story of children living on the streets of India's cities.

The trust runs a hostel not far from the train station. There, Saini found a place to sleep, eat and learn. He also found a job as a tour guide: He gives people from Europe, Japan and the United States -- but also from India -- tours that give them a better idea of the kind of life he used to lead.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Justice for Immigrants and blog ethics

The wonderful couple that runs the Evangelical Catholicism blog have put up an excellent link to Archbishop Wilton Gregory's statements on the US Bishops and US immigration policy, as well as information on the US Bishops' campaign website "Justice for Immigrants."

What is also rather sad is the incredibly acrimonious debate that their support for immigration reform is causing on certain blogs. Michael tries to analyze one series of exchanges between his wife and a Catholic bloggere here -- what I was struck by was his honesty, clear communication, and integrity in admitting error. All virtues that seem often to be lacking in St. Blog's where strident self-righteousness often emerges and snuffs out genuine conversation. I can imagine a modern-day Screwtape receiving a text message from his diabolical uncle, urging him to stoke bloggers' pride and quickly dissolve charity, and thus give the Devil an inroad into many hearts.

Yes things get heated, especially online. It's easy to caricature or attack an interlocutor. But, surely, as Christians, we are not called to simply win in the heat of debate, especially by uncharitable and unethical means, but to remember that everyone we are talking with is a human being? That everyone behind an opinion (any opinion, or idea, even heretical ones!) is a human being. Tough, sure. But isn't that how our genuine Chrisitianity will shine? My rule (more often than not marked in breach) is to always calm down before I write anything online, or before I hit "submit." This is something I especially keep in mind, now that my opinions aren't just about myself, but can also reflect on the Society I am associted with as a Novice.

So, Katerina and Michael -- keep up the great work and keep us thinking and pondering with all the wonderful stuff that you post at y'all's blog! Don't let such inflammatory exchanges dampen your spirit!

Already looking after his flock ...

As Bombay's new Archbishop is installed (the ceremony was today ... nothing has shown up yet on the wire. I guess the Indian dailies will carry a story Friday morning. Ah here's a short piece from the Express News Service, focusing on Archbishop Gracias' skills as a mediator and negotiator), this piece in Asia News is about the BMC's incredibly controversial road-widening project in the heart of the Catholic suburb of Bandra (I blogged on this a few weeks back when I was in Bombay) ... I'm glad that the new Archbishop is speaking up! INDIA Road improvement to wipe out Christian cemetery, spare shopping centres in Mumbai - Asia News This quote from the Pastor of St. Andrews speaks volumes ...
"The Church has always been law-abiding. It has worked for development and progress in society. Now society is working against us," Father Aguiar lamented. "Christians feel vulnerable and perhaps targeted because of their virtues of peace and tolerance".
I can't tell you just how common this is -- "Oh those Catholics will do nothing." That is most certainly what is not said about the other "minority community." I do hope the BMC sees reason soon.

:: Photos the Cathedral of the Holy Name from the visit this summer -- here, here and here. This was my first parish, incidentally. ::

Does Darfur Have a Prayer? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Worth a read. Oh what a tragedy! Does Darfur Have a Prayer? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Prayers for a friend ...

Good friend St. Lizzy has just been diangosed with (Type 2) diabetes and is having some tests today to determine whether there are some cardiac-disease issues involved. Prayers would be appreciated.

Also prayers for a situation I'm aware of (I can't be more specific) that involves an unexpected pregnancy.

Cardinal Murhphy O'Connor on HIV/AIDS and Condoms

Over at Zadok's

Profile of Archbishop Gracias of Bombay

INDIA New Mumbai archbishop to promote a culture of life and inter-faith dialogue - Asia News

Has Microsoft taken over Google? Gmail down ...

My gmail account has been down since last night about 11:00 pm.
Server Error

We're sorry, but Gmail is temporarily unavailable. We're currently working to fix the problem -- please try logging in to your account in a few minutes.
This is most annoying! Gmail is now my primary email ... So, Google, you keep trumpeting your new server-based software capabilities -- it won't fly if this is what happens.

Of course there is no acknowledgement that this is happening. Seems that it's par for the course ...

Yahoo Mail looks even more attractive now!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The monuments on a foggy night

  Good friend Sean was in DC tonight and came over to the house for dinner, with a friend of his who lives in the District. We drove out to the monuments, always beautiful after dark. The temperature had dropped a bit, and a thin layer of fog swirled around the lower reaches of the Mall, by the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial, giving the Korean War Memorial an even more ghostly and somber quality.

Much to my delight, airplanes roared right overhead, on final to Rwy 19 at DCA, on that famous River Visual approach that involves low altitude maneuvers along the Potomac. It took a while before I realized that the roar that followed after an aircraft disappeared below the trees on the left bank of the Potomac was the thrust reversers engaging after it landed. [Note to self: standing atop the steps at the Lincoln Memorial and looking south, one can pretty much follow the aircraft till that final 30 degree bank to the right to line-up with the runway.]

Went for some Coffee and Crumbs in Columbia Heights afterwards -- their chai latte is a darn sight better than Starbucks'.

A nice evening with good company, and aviation joy to boot, that was much needed after what's been a pretty intense week and a half or so.

I can't wait till break starts on Monday.

[The photo above, incidentally, wasn't taken tonight, but on Veterans' Day. I didn't have my camera with me tonight!] Posted by Picasa

Lay down your burdens

[No, no. Not the BSG episode.] Today's Gospel.
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
The homily:
If we have any burdens that are too heavy, or if the yoke isn't easy, maybe it isn't Jesus' burdens, or his yoke that we're carrying.
Yep a one sentencer. And it wan't our Novice Master either (who specializes in ... um ... pithy homilies :-)). The funny thing is, I was thinking on the same lines as I heard the Gospel proclaimed. I wonder what the Lord wants me to hear ... ?

[Incidentally, at the Confirmation class I assist with, this past Sunday, I'd brought up these lines. None of the teens knew what a yoke was, however. Oy!]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

La Guadalupana

Amy has a great series of links to stories and resources for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, today. I wasn't aware that there was a movie coming out on the story of the apparition ... Guadalupe: La Película (Guadalupe, the Movie). Yes, as she points out, the trailer has a very DVC feel ... but it does seem interesting. And, by sending a text message with "W Guadalupe" to 73333 one can enter a sweepstakes and possible win a car in 2007. (What does that have to do with the story of our Lady?) I presume one has to be in Mexico to do that?

Oh, the film has already been released. I'd like to see it ... hope it makes it to DC. And boy, talk about the lack of hype!

Like an oriental prince

Today in the Paulist Necrology (which is recited each morning at Morning Prayer), Fr. Elias Younan is remembered. To date he has been the only member of the Society from India. That, of course, might change next August, if yours truly makes it to First Promises. Here are the paragraphs from the Necrology.
On December 12, 1913, Father Elias Hyacinthe Younan, CSP, died in New York at the age of 64 after 34 years as a Paulist priest. Born in Calcutta, India on August 16, 1849, he was the son of Syrian Catholics, educated by Belgian Jesuits in India and Europe, and ordained a Jesuit priest in 1879. While visiting the United States, he decided upon a missionary career and was professed a Paulist priest in 1894.

An immensely popular speaker with looks "like an oriental prince," Father Younan specialized in winning back wayward and disillusioned Catholics. Although mostly working out of New York, he was appointed the first Superior in Winchester, Tennesse in 1900, remaining only one year before returning to the wider mission circuit. In that one year in the rural South, however, he gave 14 Catholic missions, 15 non-Catholic missions, 20 retreats, heard 20,000 confessions and brought 400 people back to the Church. His most famous mission was at Salt Lake City in 1899, when 5,000 people crammed into the Mormon Tabernacle Church to hear Father Younan speak during a terrific thunderstorm. When the lights went out, he continued speaking and made an enormous impression on the crowd. 44 people in the hall converted to Catholicism, including 12 Mormons and a Mormon elder. He retired from the missions around 1919 and lived full-time at 59th Street. [In New York at the Paulist mother house.]

One of the most famous Paulist missionaries, Father Younan was remembered by friends as a gentle, kind man who won over converts through love, not fear. Walter Elliott, CSP, [one of Fr. Hecker's loyal disciples and the author of the first life of the founder] described his friend well: "I heard him preach many sermons, and especially was I impressed, as I know very many who heard him and were impressed, by the great truth of God's tenderness and mercy. From all his preaching there went forth a certain atmosphere that was sweet, that was gentle to poor sinners ... Father Younan as a preacher, then, was of that gentler kind, which saves more souls in the long run than a man of hard and striking manner." (Emphasis, comments, added)
Wow. Also Jesuit educated. Also worked in the South. Hmm. I wonder if 20,000 confessions are heard in a year in the United States overall nowadays, let alone the rural South! And, as I was told at breakfast this morning, I'm expected to beat the record of 44 conversions on the spot. Oy.

They don't make 'em nowadays like they used to, eh? :-)

The new Archbishop of Bombay to be installed Thursday

Archbishop Oswald Gracias will be installed as the 14th Archbishop of Bombay in a "colossal ceremony" (as this Hindustan Times article puts it. Oh I love the language of Indian journalism!) on Thursday
"It will be a grand liturgical ceremony with best of arrangements. We want to give him a very warm welcome," said Father Anthony Charangat, spokesperson, Archdiocese of Bombay. "Archbishop Gracias succeeds the high profile popular Cardinal Dias, thus holds a very important position. He will work towards building bridges of peace in the Christian community and bring about religious harmony and reconciliation between various faiths", added Charangat.

The largest archdiocese in India was vacant since May 20, 2006 when Cardinal Ivan Dias took charge as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples in the Vatican City.

"We are thrilled to get back our own bishop now elevated as archbishop and we will extend full co-operation in discharging his responsibilities towards the community and the nation at large," said Dolphy D'souza, President of the Bombay Catholic Sabha and Vice President of All Indian Catholic Union.

More on the Tomb of the Apostle ...

(or, "The Sarcophagus linked with St. Paul" as Zenit is putting it, a little more cautiously it would seem.) Here's the CNS story (I couldn't find it on their website ... this one showed up in my inbox on the community listserv.) based on the press conference yesterday
Vatican officials say they found St. Paul's tomb in Roman basilica
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After years of archaeological work,
Vatican officials announced they have identified the tomb of St. Paul
beneath the Rome basilica dedicated to the apostle.
Authorities said Dec. 11 that a roughly cut marble sarcophagus
was found beneath a historic inscription that reads: "Paul Apostle
Martyr." The tomb lies several feet below the main altar of the Basilica
of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Only one end of the sarcophagus has been opened to view, and the
rest is buried beneath building material. If Pope Benedict XVI gives
permission, the experts may attempt to open the sarcophagus and find out
whether the saint's relics are inside.
"We can be certain that this is the tomb of St. Paul," Cardinal
Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica, told a
Vatican press conference.
"No one ever had any doubt that the basilica was built on the
site of the tomb. Now we can see it, through a small window we have
created," the cardinal said.
He said Vatican experts attempted to X-ray the tomb to view the
contents, but it did not work because of the thick marble walls of the
An "internal exploration" of the sarcophagus would pose
technical problems but probably will be attempted, the cardinal said. He
said it was certain that the tomb had remained sealed since it was
placed there in the fourth century.
"The Basilica of St. John Lateran says they have the heads of
Sts. Peter and Paul. I don't know how they can, since this tomb has
never been opened," the cardinal said.
Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who carried out the
studies on the tomb area, said that, archaeologically speaking, it did
not matter whether relics of St. Paul were discovered inside the
sarcophagus or not.
He said positive identification of the tomb was made using
historical and scientific methods, independent of the presence of

Experts believe the marble sarcophagus was put in place during
the reconstruction of the basilica in 390. The church was remodeled
several times afterward and almost completely destroyed by fire in
One of the more important archaeological finds, Filippi said,
was that the sarcophagus had a funnel-shaped hole in the top -- later
closed with mortar -- through which the faithful could stick pieces of
cloth to make secondary relics.
He said that was a significant sign that the tomb was revered
from the beginning as that of St. Paul of Tarsus.
Tradition holds that St. Paul was martyred by beheading in the
first century and that his body was buried in a cemetery along the Via
Ostiense, where the basilica was built.
Filippi began studying the basilica in 1993, and in 2002 he made
the first close examination that led to the lid of the sarcophagus.
END (Emphasis added)
Strictly speaking, there is another explanation -- that St. Paul's head was not interred in this tomb, and was preserved separately. This is hardly unusual in the history of saintly relics, and he was beheaded after all! Of course, I'm not at all familiar with the claims and stories surrounding the relics at St. John Lateran -- and I tend to be a bit skeptical with all these stories of relics anyway. Just pointing out that the fact that the tomb might seem to be unopened isn't automatically a contradiction to the head of the Apostle being at St. John Lateran.

I do hope a study of the contents is carried out ... The discovery of the tomb underneath the high altar at St. Paul's is significant enough though!

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has some interesting tidbits -- on the relics of Paul (chains associated with the Apostle) to be prepared to be given to the visiting Archbishop of Athens, and his brief account of the press conference, including a bit about the four Patriarchal Basilicas not being, well, Patriarchal anymore. All related to the elimination of the title "Patriarch of the West" by Pope Benedict.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oh Tabernacle!

Via Don Jim this really fascinating article about swear-words in Quebecois French ... In French-Speaking Canada, the Sacred Is Also Profane -
"Oh, tabernacle!" The man swore in French as a car splashed through a puddle, sending water onto his pants. He could never be quoted in the papers here. It is too profane.

So are other angry oaths that sound innocuous in English: chalice, host, baptism. In French-speaking Quebec, swearing sounds like an inventory being taken at a church.
You know, I was always curious about this ... the article seems unaware that the phenomenon is not limited to Quebec ... I recall a very devout student who went to study-abroad in Spain being shocked by the way terms associated with Catholic ritual were used ... "I can't believe they swear by saying '¡hostia!'!" I'm sure there are various sociological reasons for these developments ... for instance:
"When you get mad, you look for words that attack what represses you," said Louise Lamarre, a Montreal cinematographer who must tread lightly around the language, depending on whether her films are in French or English. "In America, you are so Puritan that the swearing is mostly about sex. Here, since we were repressed so long by the church, people use religious terms."

And the words that are shocking in English -- including the slang for intercourse -- are so mild in Quebecois French they appear routinely in the media. But not church terms.
But surely, parts of the Church were experienced as oppressive in other parts of Europe too? And scatological/sexual expletives seem universal ... in Spain, they're used (as they are in Spanish-speaking America) ... though yes, they don't seem to have the same level of opprobrium attached to them. (I was rather surprised to see the Spanish equivalent of the f-word appearing in the dailies over there quite routinely ... ) There's got to be other things at work too, right?

Of course, Quebec is hardly Catholic anymore ... the so-called "Quiet Revolution" of the 60's saw to that, when the Quebecois just simply defected from the church, en masse, very quietly without any fanfare. Yet, these terms survive, it seems. The Church is trying to do some catechesis:
Last spring, the Montreal Archdiocese commissioned an advertising campaign that erected large billboards in the city intended to shock and educate. Each billboard featured a word like "tabernacle" or "chalice" -- startling swearwords on the street -- and offered the correct dictionary definition for the religious term. Such as: "Tabernacle -- small cupboard locked by key in the middle of the altar" containing the sacred goblet.
I'm not sure how effective this is ... though maybe for the younger generation that has absolutely no clue as to what the original referent for "Tabernac!" is, this may be of some value. Seems like it's a losing battle though ... Who knows what it will take to re-plant the faith (one trusts minus all the oppression) in these once-Christian lands.

Desi Christmas

Elvis rules ... and all in a neat south Indian accent ... :-)

I haven't blogged in four days?

... how did that happen? Well, I guess because of that I finished my Christmas letter today, as well as caught up with email and did some reading. Hmm ... :-)

Busy week ahead, and then, it's Christmas break!

Oh boy ... I'm "into" the season now ... Veni, veni Emmanuel and all that.

And, I should say, Christmas shopping is so much easier when the wallet pretty much decides that I'm not getting anything for anyone. Well, some of you will get pretty photos ... but that's it ... :)

This is not to say that the imperatives of evangelical simplicity in any way prevent stuff coming in the other direction ... [ahem.] :-D

Witnessing the faith in Indian cultures

An address by Cardinal Poupard (President of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue as well as the Culture) given in Goa on the mission "ad gentes" in India. There's a lot here, so I'll have more thoughts after I've had a chance to digest this. Main thrust seems to be that "mission" also involves transforming culture, as well as inculturation, and, of course, dialogue with other faiths. Full text at Zenit.

The Nativity Story

Saw it tonight ... not bad really. The cinematography was fantastic, and they really did evoke a sense of a different time and culture. I could have done without the accents though. The angel scenes were a bit ... mushy? Too obviously melodromatic? I'm not sure what ... just seemed a little odd, out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie. What I really came away with was a much better appreciation of just how strange Mary's story would have sounded, and how difficult a time it must have been for her and Joseph. Further, just how incredible the story really is -- God, taking form in human flesh, through this rather insignifant woman, at this time, in this way? Indeed, God's ways are not our ways! And I also came away with a much greater appreciation of St. Joseph, and his heroism. [Was the Ezekiel "God was in the still small voice" passage really used as a kind of catechetical passage oft-repeated and memorized back then? Of course, I don't know we have the data to answer that ... yes, it provided a Scriptural highlighting, if you will, of the "still small voice" so to speak, with which the Incarnation itself happened. I was just curious about the history ...]

At Amy's, the comments discuss whether Mary would have suffered labor pains or not. American Papist has his own thoughts as well.

Oh and Amy has her own review.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You've got to be kidding me

WBIR.COM - Flatulence, not turbulence forces plane landing in Nashville [Not that turbulence could really cause an emergency landing!]

The operation of the Holy Spirit

From the writings of Fr. Isaac Hecker.
The primary attention of the soul should be directed, not to the Divine external authority of the Church, as that is not the immediate means of its sanctification, but to the primary act of its Sanctifier, the operation of the Holy Spirit. In that simple statement is contained a principle of action that will change the whole front of the Church and renew the pentecostal days. It is from the Holy Spirit we are to look for the renewal of the life and strength and glory of the Church. He is the Life -- Light -- Strength giver. "Thou shalt send forth Thy spirit and Thou shalt renew the earth."

So it is with the Soul. The guide, the authority of the Church, is not the life of the Christian soul or its force. The Holy Ghost is the life giver, the sanctifier, the strength & support of the Soul.

They therefore have entirely mistaken notions of the authority of the Church who suppose that it is a substitute for the Holy Ghost, that it crushes reason, enervates the soul and kills its life. On the contrary, with the divine external authority of the Church the Christian soul follows the inspirations of the Holy Ghost with perfect safety, and confidence, knowing he cannot go astray, make a mistake by any self-delusions, or fall into the snares of Satan while watched over by this divinely appointed guide.

The North Star

From the writings of Fr. Isaac Hecker:
The eternal authority is like, in some respects, to the compass -- rather the North star -- conscience the compass. The North star is not the cause of the movement of the ship -- that is the wind -- but as long as it can be seen with clearness and certitude, the ship can sail with all the wind her sails are capable of carrying -- but obscure the star by clouds, so that the captain cannot be sure of his course, he will have to take in sail, move cautiously lest he should make shipwreck, unti the North star again appears distinctly. The wind is the Holy Spirit -- the North star is the eternal authority of the Church, the compass is the light of faith. ...

To wish the enlarge the action of the Holy Spirit in the Soul, independently of, or without the knowledge & appreciation of the necessity of the external authority of the Church, her disciplines, her laws, her worship, etc. & the spirit of obedience, would only be opening the door to eccentricity, schism, heresy, & spiritual death.

On knowledge

From the writings of Fr. Hecker.
How blind and foolish are those who arrest themselves at anything, however precious and good it may appear, when they can obtain possession of Him who is the Creator and God of all, the Infinite! Who can behold God and desire to regard anything else? Who that knows God can study anything else? Who that has tasted God's love can desire any other? Who that has experienced His presence can wish for anything but solitude? We are truly wise when we have arrived at the knowledge of the fact that we are fools; and truly learned when we acknowledge that we are ignorant.

Obedience to the authority of the Church

As I'd promised, I'll be sharing excerpts from what we're reading as part of this retreat from the writings of Fr. Isaac Hecker, the Founder of the Paulists. And finally I'm getting a clearer sense of what the driving force of his thought is: the direct inspiration of the individual soul by the Holy Spirit, within the context of the life of the Church, which, if I've understood it, is his way of talking about sanctity, about the universal call to holiness. Everything is directed to strengthening the soul's ability to be guided by the Spirit. And he was convinced that transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, regenerated men and women would transform the world.
A Paulist must know how to reconcile the greatest fidelity to the interior attrait and guidance of the Holy Spirit with perfect filial obedience to the external and divine authority of the Holy Church.

The practical aim of all true religion is to bring each individual soul under the immediate guidance of the Divine Spirit. The Divine Spirit communicates Himself to the soul by the means of the sacraments of the Church. The Divine Spirit acts as the interpreter and criterion of revealed truth by the authority of the Church.

Although we must never forget that the immediate means of Christian perfection is the interior direction of the Holy Spirit, neither must we forget that the test of our being directed by the Holy Spirit, and not by our fancies and prejudices, is our filial obedience to the divine external authority of the Church. ...

The Holy Spirit in the external authority of the Church acts as the infallible interpreter and criterion of divine revelation. The Holy Spirit in the soul acts as the Divine Life-Giver and Sanctifier. The supposition that there can be any opposition or contradiction between the action of the Holy Spirit in the supreme decisions of the authority of the Church, and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit in the soul, can never enter the mind of an enlightened and sincere Christian. The Holy Spirit which through the authority of the Church teaches divine truth, is the same Spirit which prompts the soul to receive the divine truths which He teaches. The measure of our love for the Holy Spirit is the measure of our obedience to the authority of the Church. There is one Spirit, which acts in two different offices concurring to the same end: the regeneration and sanctification of the soul.
(All citations are from "The Paulist Vocation." Paulist Press: 2000)

The Tomb of the Apostle Found?

Gaudium Magnum! (This is news that almost caused me to break my blog silence during the day ... it was also discussed at lunch. Of course, for a community that takes St. Paul as its patron, this is big news indeed!)

Statue of St. Paul in front of the Basilica

According to the Associated Press, the Vatican has announced that archeologists have discovered the tomb of St. Paul, underneath the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul that had been buried beneath Rome's second largest basilica.

The sarcophagus, which dates back to at least A.D. 390, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month, the project's head said this week.

"Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible," said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who headed the project at St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica.
The sarcophagus hasn't been opened ... "Well, if they find his head in there attached, that might be a problem" as someone quipped at lunch. Besides, isn't his head supposedly in a reliquary on the top of the Baldachino above the high altar at St. John Lateran? I do hope they do continue the research ... this is exciting!

View of the Basilica from across the Tiber

This blog provides a little more background into the excavations, along with a photograph of the sarcophagus.

Interior of the Basilica.

Sadly, I have no photographs of the Confessio itself (which, incidentally, holds the tomb of St. Timothy). S. Paolo fuori le Mura is one of my favorite spots in Rome, and praying at the Confessio one of the highlights of a trip to the Eternal City. For obvious reasons.

Now, I cannot wait for the next trip (whenever that might be!) to pray at the actual tomb of the Apostle! Posted by Picasa

Good Saint Nick

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! Saint Nicholas ::: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus

Monday, December 04, 2006

Retreat: From the writings of the founder

Turns out we have a four day mini-retreat this week, focusing on the writings of the Founder. We've been asked to minimized distractions such as TV and the Internet during the retreat hours, so I won't be blogging till Thursday, except to share some excerpts from what we're reading from Hecker.
The two poles of the Paulist character are: first, personal perfection. He must respond to the principles of perfection as laid down by spiritual writers. The backbone of a religious community is the desire for personal perfection actuating its members. The desire for personal perfection is the foundation stone of a religious community; when this fails, it crumbles to pieces; when this ceases to be the dominant desire, the community is tottering. ...

The main purpose of each Paulist must be the attainment of personal perfection by the practice of those virtues without which it cannot be secured -- mortification, self-denial, detachment, and the like. By the use of these means the grace of God makes the soul perfect. The perfect soul is one which is guided instinctively by the indwelling Holy Spirit. To attain this is the end always to be aimed at in the practice of the virtues just named.
This part just leapt out at me. For the past weeks I've been reading selections from Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons (highly recommended!), where one of his central themes is that the religious life demands a total surrender, a complete submission to the will of God. Oh boy. He means it! But is this tin soldier (see that wonderful chapter in C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity to understand the metaphor) entirely sure he wants to become human? Sure, he says he wants to ... but can he follow where the path leads? All this stuff has been bouncing about my head ... maybe God is trying to say something ... :)

Second, zeal for souls: to labor for the conversion of the country to the Catholic faith by apostolic work. Parish work is a part, an integral part, of Paulist work but not its principal or chief work; and parish work should be done so as to form a part of hte main aim, the conversion of the non-Catholic people of the country. In this manner we can labor to raise the standard of Catholic life here and throughout the world as a means of the general triumph of the Catholic faith.

I do not thing that the principal characteristic of our Fathers and of our life should be poverty or obedience or any other special and secondary virtue, or even a cardinal virtue, but zeal for apostolic works. Our vocation is apostolic: conversion of souls to the faith, of sinners to repentance, giving missions, defense of the Christian religion by conferences, lectures, sermons, the pen, the press, and the like works; and in the interior, to propogate among men a higher and more spiritual life.

Our power will be in presenting the same old truths in new forms, fresh new tone and air and spirit.

Memphis, Tennessee

That's where the Gamecocks are headed to the Librty Bowl, facing the Houston Cougars on Dec. 29.

I will, (unless the powers that be tell me otherwise), be sticking to my original Christmas break plans -- which were to spend some time in SC before visiting the folks. So, looks like I'll have to catch this one from the subcontinent too. :)

St. John Damascene

Chrysorrhoas, the Golden Speaker. Today is the Feast of this Doctor of the Church, who was once the protosymbolous, the Chief Councillor to the Ummayid Caliph, and famous for his response to iconoclasm. Of late, his views on Islam, which regard it as a Christian heresy (and which was one of the principal lenses through which Islam was regarded by the Christian world for a long time since) have circulated in the blogosphere.

This excerpt from his Statement of Faith, from today's Office of Readings is quite powerful.
In this way you have humbled yourself, Christ my God, so that you might carry me, your stray sheep, on your shoulders. You let me graze in green pastures, refreshing me with the waters of orthodox teaching at the hands of your shepherds. You pastured these shepherds, and now they in turn tend your chosen and special flock. Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people. I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that. Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through wich I have seriously transgressed. Purify my mind and heart. Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path. When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say. By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready. Stay with me always and keep me in your sight.

Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me. Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path. Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.

Don't worry, it's appropriate

... I was on the phone with a friendly rep at the Discover Card customer service center in Arizona a few minutes back, to activate my newly arrived card. "So I expect you're off to help govern our nation out there in Washington?" "Umm ... no. I'm a seminarian." Well, he's Catholic ... was taught by the Jesuits and then the Franciscans and so on. Still goes to Church ... "So, I guess it'll be ok to say God Bless you in your journey!" Sure, I won't report you buddy! Happy Advent to you too! "You're my first call ... you really made my day!"

You know, I guess I'll get used to it, but it's weird how saying I'm a seminarian opens up some conversations (like with that flight attendant on the BOM-AMS flight) with complete strangers. (And in a way that saying "I'm a lay minister" or "campus minister" never really did.) I guess this is only the beginning ...