Friday, March 30, 2007

Back to Bombay

An uneventful flight (Indigo, 6E401), which left early and arrived early, into Bombay today. I am enjoying this increased use of the alternative runway, which affords different views of the beloved metropolis. While the approach on Rwy 32 gives a great view of the port at Nhava Sheva across the Thane Creek, and then the nuclear power station at Trombay, today we landed from the other side, Rwy 14, descending over the Arabian Sea, crossing Manori Creek and the surrounding mangrove swamps, then Versova Beach and the skyscrapers at Lokhandwala, Gilbert Hill(a fantastic example of a basaltic plug, with beautiful columnar jointing), the crowded environs of Andheri railway station, then over the Western Express Highway just before touchdown. [I wonder if a full loaded 777 can take-off in this heat from 14-32? I have a feeling the international longhauls tend to use 9-27. Guess I'll find out Tuesday night :)]

A few days ahead of catching up with friends, and trying to stay cool. The mercury is scaling torturous heights. There were three straight days of 40C+ (104F+) temps in Baroda this week, and even Bombay reached 40C on Wednesday it seems. In March. I cannot recall a 40C day in Bombay, and certianly not this early!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Two months

My father died two months ago today. It turns out today is his birthday according to teethi (the date in the Hindu samvant calendar). And it's agyaras, the eleventh day of the lunar month, generally considered auspicious by many Hindus.

This will also be my last night in Baroda. Tomorrow we go to Bombay, and I'm returning to the US on April 4.

Time flies.

And when asked, "How are you doing?" I still don't know what to say.

Saving Adam's Bridge

Also known as Ram Sethu, the bridge of Ram, who (according to the Ramayana) crossed over to Lanka from here. It's a natural link of shoals in the Palk Straits that links Sri Lanka to India, which also makes the Straits impassable. Apparently there's a government plan to, well, destroy this natural limestone feature, to give ships an easier access across the tip of the peninsula, without having to go all the way around the island of Sri Lanka. And, according to Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the Times (London), there's worldwide protests from Hindus, who regard the bridge to be a holy structure. And, apparently, there might be some ecological concerns as well.

So, I guess, in many ways this is simply a larger version of a problem that crops up quite often in Indian cities: what to do about that pesky religious structure (temple, mosque, shrine, dargah) that is in the way of a new road, or a road widening project, or what have you. Tear it down? And cause a riot? Leave it be? Take the road somewhere else? Build the road around it? (It happens all the time!)

A couple of other things: Ms. Gledhill quite erroneously suggests that this bridge is as important to Hindus as Mecca is to Muslims or the Wailing Wall is to Jews. That's just not true. For one, Hinduism is vastly diverse, and I doubt that there's any one central location/temple/thing that is supremely important in the same way. The teerths? Not everyone goes there. Varanasi and the Ganga? Again, not everyone goes there. Nor is everyone supposed to go there. There's all kidns of regional variations and practices. I hadn't even heard of this bridge in any religious context until now (Granted, I'm a poor example, a convert to Christianity ... but it's just not something one hears about!). And, as an aside, I just don't think it's accurate to say "Hindus believe" without some qualifiers, for most such statements. There's very few things all Hindus everywhere believe, or are expected to believe. Belief, as in a central body of teaching one assents to, isn't really a concept in Hinduism.

Interesting too that this is the first I'm hearing about this story -- it's not news on the constantly chattering 24/7 channels (who are obsessed by the Indian cricket team right now), and I haven't seen it any of the English dailies. I'm sure there is a campaign to save this bridge among all kinds of Hindus -- but it just doesn't compare to, say, the Ayodhya temple issue (now that could truly be caleld a worldwide campaign), and yes, it is a stretch to call this India's Suez crisis!

Or maybe, I just am not reading the papers too well!

As to what I think? Oh let it be ... screw "development!"

Dogwood's mom

Just got off the phone with Dogwood, who's in VA. His mom's surgery went off well. Long road ahead, for sure. Keep the prayers comin'!

Archbisop Concessao to Sonia: cleanse Congress of communal elements

["Communal" in India means divisively sectarian.] Also from the Fides news service, this report:
Congress Party with its centuries old democratic, secular tradition, tolerant, respectful of individual freedom and human rights should cleanse itself of poisonous elements of fundamentalism and communalism. Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, has asked the leader of Congress party Sonia Gandhi to cleanse her party of communal elements. He said this would restore the confidence of India’s minorities in the century-old political party that led the country to freedom from foreign rule.
Archbishop was speaking in the context of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006 which was passed into law after the governor signed it last month. The Congress party rules the State of Himachal Pradesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Bill is one of various anti-conversion laws which make it difficult for Indians to change religion. India’s Christian community strongly opposes similar laws which it sees as violation of individual freedom of conscience. This is the first such Bill approved in a state ruled by Congress Party. So far these measures have been passed only in states governed by the rightwing Hindutva group of the Baratiya [sic] Janata Party.
The Archbishop pointed out that “there has been not even one proven case of conversion by fraud or fraudulence in the country”, and he questioned the need for the Bill.
The anti-conversion Bill went into force in Himachal Pradesh on 19 February. Some Christian organisations are thinking of pressing for the repeal of the Himachal Bill on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, since India’s constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion for all citizens. Observers say Congress party approved the Bill to win more popularity in view of elections in 2008.
It is indeed disturbing that the Congress would resort to passing an anti-conversion Bill to bolster its fading fortunes, but it is hardly surprising. "The ends justify the means" is not just the mantra of Indian politicians, it seems to be one of the general guiding principles of Indian culture as a whole. And while it may appear that the Congress is the secular (in the Indian sense of the world) alternative to tbe BJP, I don't know. The Congress seems to exist solely as the base for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to operate. If the good Archbishop gets a response, it will be a sympathetic tut-tutting from the President of the party (who is herself a Catholic, incidentally). And if the Congress or any other party really needs to be cleansed of anything, it is of the high number of criminals that serve from the lowest functionaries to Members of Parliament and even Cabinet Ministers.

[And a nitpick: The Congress party doesn't have a "centuries old" tradition of anything. It was born in 1885.]

The Church in Myanmar (Burma)

One doesn't hear much about Catholicism in Myanmar. (Well, one doesn't hear much about Myanmar, apart from the occasional report of yet more human rights violations by the military junta.) This brief report appeared in the news feed sent out by Fides (not yet on their website). No analysis, just a report on the visit of the Apostolic Delegate to a remote part of northern Myanmar.
This was the first pastoral visit in this diocese by Mgr Pennacchio who, on the recent visit, was accompanied by other bishops of Myanmar and by Fr. Dominic Thet tin, secretary of the Bishops’ Conference.
The diocese of Pathein is situated in northern Myanmar and has a vivacious and flourishing Catholic community of 72,000 faithful, assisted by 93 priests, about 250 men and women religious, and 36 seminarians. It was created by Pope Pius XII in 1954, the year the Catholic hierarchy was established.
On his arrival in the presence of over a thousand people, priests, religious and laity, Archbishop Pennacchio presided a concelebration of the Eucharist and the ordination of three deacons,.
The programme continued with a visit to the Novitiate of the Congregation of Saint Paul Missionaries, where the Apostolic Delegate encouraged the novices and Brothers; then Archbishop Pennacchio blessed a piece of land on which a new church will be built in the area of St John’s parish.
[Update: Do read the anonymous comment below. No idea about the veracity of the statements ... it was made from an IP address in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar.]

Christianity: not just for intellectuals

From this brilliant exposition on St. Ireneus of Lyons from yesterday's General Audience by the Pope:
In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

To adhere to this faith publicly taught by the apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what the bishops say. They must specifically consider the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and ancient. This Church, because of its age, has the greatest apostolicity; in fact its origins come from the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul. All the Churches must be in harmony with the Church of Rome, recognizing in it the measure of the true apostolic tradition and the only faith common to the Church.

With these arguments, very briefly summarized here, Irenaeus refutes the very foundation of the aims of the gnostics, of these intellectuals: First of all, they do not possess a truth that would be superior to the common faith, given that what they say is not of apostolic origin, but invented by them. Second, truth and salvation are not a privilege monopolized by a few, but something that everyone can reach through the preaching of the apostles' successors, and, above all, that of the Bishop of Rome.
It's not wonder that Asianews titled this article, "True faith taught by bishops, not intellectuals." It's hard not to detect another reminder to Catholic intellectuals and theologians that their contributions are valuable only in as much as they reflect and deepen and enhance the appreciation for the rule of faith, and not when they set themselves up as alternatives, in competition as it were, with the Apostolic Faith.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The politics of caste

A decent piece in the latest Economist on the upcoming Assembly (local state legislature) elections in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state (with ~170 million people). UP is a perfect case study in the rise of regional caste-based political parties.
Politics in UP, whose 170m people live in one of India's poorest states, at the heart of the Hindi-speaking “cow belt”, are tethered in caste. Two parties dominate. One is the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) of Mulayam Singh Yadav, a patronage machine for members of his lowly Yadav caste and their allies, including members of the Muslim minority; it won 143 seats in 2002. The other is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won 98 seats and performs the same function for dalits, those, once called “untouchables”, languishing beneath the caste system. Because neither party can muster a majority, they form unstable governments by allying variously with each other, Congress or with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won 88 seats in 2002.

Their governments have in a way been revolutionary. Despite decades of quotas for civil-service jobs and educational places, and other affirmative action on behalf of dalits and “other backward castes”, India's caste-system is written in granite, especially in the countryside. For example, the BSP's pugnacious leader, Mayawati, whose sole policy was to increase those quotas, meanwhile made alliances with high-caste groups partly to ensure that local bigwigs would not prevent her dalit supporters from voting.

The resulting administrations have also been riotous, vindictive and hugely corrupt. Miss Mayawati's was accused of wrongdoing over a foiled plan to append a shopping mall to the Taj Mahal, UP's—and India's—most famous monument; Mr Yadav is under investigation, at the order of the Supreme Court, for being suspiciously rich. Organised crime, or “goondaism”, is the law in UP; unsurprisingly, given that policemen are often the biggest goons.
The story of how democratic politics (or about as democratic as politics get in hierarchical and feudal India) has strengthened caste-based identity is a fascinating one. I wonder how the author of India's constitution (which makes absolutely no bones about being focused on complete social reform and restructuring), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (himself a Dalit, of the Mahar caste from central Maharashtra) would have viwed these developments. The front page story in today's Indian Express is on a pre-election poll conducted in the state, which predicts another hung assembly and a continuation of the current patronage regimes. Another story looks at the recommendations to include both Muslims and Christians in the official classification as Dalits, in order to extend the benefits of reservations (ie quotas in government jobs and educational institutions) to them.

I don't intend to enter into the turbulent waters of the debate on reservations (I generally am skeptical that these actually achieve their intended results. Yep, bring on the accusations of elitist upper-caste bias.). And yes, this rise of regional caste-based political parties is indeed revolutionary (along with other things, such as a President from the lower castes). Especially when one stops to think that a majority of Indians are from the lower castes (this includes the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes)! It makes one marvel at the phenomenal power of a system that has managed to keep such a vast majority in thrall to a small minority for centuries, if not millenia, in conditions that make the apartheid regime of South Africa seem positively enlightened. Caste is deeply ingrained in the Indian mindset (I often say that it's one of the unique distinguishing characteristics of Indian civilization), and is not going to be abolished overnight, no matter how many high-minded slogans folks come up with, and no matter that it is officially "abolished" by the Constitution (or rather, caste-based discrimination is). What is so evident, however, is that even as these systems of patronage take advantage of the democratic machinery to bring some sense of political empowerment to the lower castes (without actually challenging or upsetting any of the feudal alignments of power), caste-based identity is, in fact, deepened. Divisions are emphasized. Any connection with a larger, national idenitity, transcending these barriers, is consequently attenuated.

Then there's the whole issue of how Dalit Christians fit into this mix. More on that some other time.

[And God forbid that one of these elected dispensers of patronage actually succeed in building a mall at the Taj!]

Pope says hell and damnation are real and eternal |

The following showed up in one of my news feeds ... from The Australian ... Pope says hell and damnation are real and eternal | ... with the following byline:
HELL is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
So, if you have a few minutes, read the article and spot the many errors.

Not sure why I enjoy this ... :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Delhi roads are dangerous to human life

Or so says the Delhi High Court as it issues an ukase fine-tuning Delhi's traffic control laws.
The chaotic Delhi roads may at last get a semblance of discipline. The Delhi High Court on Monday stepped in to hike traffic fines across the board by Rs 500 and placed a ban on all tinted glasses and parking in the Lutyen's zone.

The slew of directions to revamp the traffic system came three months after a Times of India report had drawn the court's attention to the increasing road accidents in the city.,

In a comprehensive order, a bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and H R Malhotra also laid down strict guidelines for bus drivers and fixed the speed limit for vehicles — 45-50 kmph for light vehicles within the city and 35-40 kmph for heavy vehicles. All directions will come into effect from April 9 this year.

‘‘Immense influx of light and heavy vehicular traffic has made Delhi roads dangerous to human life. Therefore control of traffic in NCR and NCT is a matter of paramount public safety and has been a matter of judicial concern,'' the bench said in its 70-page verdict dealing with each aspect of the traffic system.
Now none of this is bad. Whether it will achieve the desire result is debatable, and I remain immensely skeptical of the breathless TV anchors who wondered out loud whether Delhi's traffic woes are in the past.

Excuse me? Increasing the fines is going to improve things in Delhi? Banning smoking while driving will reduce vehicular accidents? This assumes that there is such as thing as the rule of law in India, that the law will be enforced, and that people actually have some sense of traffic discipline, instead of the free-for-all-don't-give-a-quarter-if-I-stop-it's-as-good-as-being-castrated meleé on the roads. If those irritating talking heads on NDTV actually believe this then I have some neat beach-front property for them in Rajasthan.

There's probably no place which could serve as the text book case for the law of unintended consequences as India. In this case, I fully expect that the chai-pani rates (a term that literally means "tea-water" but is an oblique way of referring to a bribe) of the cops will increase; and now the eager hawaldars have a few dozen more things they can harrass the ordinary citizen with.

And tell me, why on earth does the friggin' High Court have to regulate such mundane matters of policy in the nation's capital? The courts decide the level of fines, and what constitutes road safety? And now that the Court has issued its judgment -- Delhi roads are hazardous -- ("M'lord, you must have finally emerged from your disinterested judicial ivory tower and tried to cross the road at CP") -- we can all breathe a sigh of relief that relief is around the corner, that the DTC buses will drive sanely, that private bus operators will not cram their vehicles to capacity, and, of course, the rickshawallah will actually charge by the meter.

While the executive busies itself with what it does best -- figuring out how to get re-elected, and plundering the coffers of the State (not to mention the aam aadmi) in the process -- the judiciary ("judicial overreach" is obviously not a concept taught in law school here) sets policy and tries to run the country, no matter that the backlogs on cases that require the judiciary to actually, you know, judge, are still decades long.

And of course, with no more black tint, we may even get to see the face of the VVIP whose convoy of white Ambassadors disrupts traffic yet again, and thank the stars that the netaji is out and about looking after the welfare of the people.

Wah! Mera Bharat Mahan!

Wilberforce on caste

It's the two hundredth anniversary of William Wilberforce's parliamentary bill that lead, eventually, to the end of the slave trade. (Slavery, of course, continues. The Tablet had a fantastic piece last week marking the anniversary.) Interestingly, Joseph D'Souza, at the Dalit Freedom Network has a piece on Wilberforce's account of the caste system in India:
The West is commemorating the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade law that began the process of dismantling slavery in the modern world. William Wilberforce a parliamentarian, a friend of the then Prime Minister Pitt and a Christian human rights activist led the struggle against slavery in the British Parliament all his life. The new film ‘Amazing Grace’ is being released on March 23rd in London, which marks the 200th year of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire.

Did Wilberforce have anything to say on caste discrimination and Dalits? Yes, he spoke on the caste system and untouchability in the British Parliament 200 years ago and described caste discrimination against Dalits as akin to slavery. Speaking on the caste system, he said, ‘The institution of caste is a system at war with truth and nature’.

If Wilberforce were alive today he would describe Dalits as modern slavery’s biggest challenge.

What is Hinduism?

No, not a rhetorical question, but one that is being asked by the Allahabad High Court [Aside: why is there a High Court in Allahabad? One would think it would be in Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh? Hmm ... shows how ignorant I am ...] An intriguing point -- my understanding has been that Indian law has tended to define Hinduism and Hindus in the negative: those in India who are not Buddhist, or Sikh, or Muslim, or Jain, or Christian, or Parsi (Zoroastrian) are by default Hindus. [The word itself is a foreign word, derived from the Greek word for those living beyond the Indus.] It's interesting what rests on a proper and unambiguous legal definition of Hinduism -- things such as conversion, or the Sangh Parivar's fantasy of an equation between India and Hinduism.
Judge S N Srivastava, who heard the petition on March 16, expressed his consideration by saying: “What is the definition of the religion? Should one consider Hindus as members of one religion or a combination of various religious groups born and brought up in India from time to time? Can all religions born and practiced in India be grouped under Hinduism? If the answer is yes, how has the government made a notification declaring Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains as religious minority groups?” Srivastava said the answer to this question should be sought in censuses made in the period under British rule from 1851 to 1941.
John Dayal, secretary-general of the All India Christian Council and president of the All India Catholic Union told AsiaNews that he was happy with the statements of the judge and hoped it would prompt the Allahabad court, the Government of India and eventually the High Court of India to take the bull by the horns and attempt to define Hinduism.

Dayal said: “The government and courts have long hidden behind theological mumbo jumbo and have never defined Hinduism. This has given an opportunity to proponents of Hindutva and other communalists to evolve a definition of Hinduism which is overwhelming, all encompassing and which makes it difficult for any other religion to survive or be counted. A direct result of this has been the denial of constitutional rights to Dalit – a group which does not belong to any caste – Christians and Muslims because a distinction was made between religions born in India, which now include Sikhism and Buddhism, and religions not born in India like Christianity and Islam. If Buddhism is Hinduism, then all of China, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma are Hindu. So why complain about conversions?
[Via Asia News]

American universities train their sights on India

[Well, everyone is doing it these days!] ... a piece in Der Spiegel about US universities entering into partnerships with Indian institutions to offer accredited degrees. Without the mind-numbing learn-by-rote education (which, I have to say, does have some benefits), but also circumventing quotas (affirmative action), and, of course, ending up being a lot more expensive.

Interesting how attitudes are changing as this exchange illustrates:
Mr. Muddana, who had a bachelor's degree in information technology and had spent the past eight months as a software developer for an Indian firm, said he saw the program as a cost-effective ticket to an American degree and a chance to work for a few years in the United States.

His father, he said, failed to grasp his ambitions. Why would he quit a secure, well-paying job to go back to school, his father wanted to know. Mr. Muddana said his father taught at a government school in a rural district in neighboring Andhra Pradesh State. He earns today roughly what his son makes fresh out of college. Mr. Muddana said his father was bewildered by his dreams and by how much it would cost to get a master's degree.

"He's presently thinking only of the investment," Mr. Muddana said, "not the outcome."
The days of the secure, life-long job with a definite rise up some hierarchy are limited, at least for some among the middle class. (For the poor, that -- especially a government job -- is the only destination guaranteed to provide some sense of financial security.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Feast of the Annunciation

Tintoretto: The Annunciation. Image courtesy of

The text of the Holy Father's Angelus address from yesterday.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

March 25 is the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year it coincides with a Sunday of Lent and so will be celebrated tomorrow. In any case, I would like to linger over this stupendous mystery of the faith that we contemplate every day in the recitation of the Angelus.

The annunciation, narrated at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke, is a humble human event, hidden -- no one saw it, no one knew about it, but Mary -- but at the same time decisive for the history of humanity. When the Virgin pronounced her "yes" to the angel's announcement, Jesus was conceived and with him the era of history began which would be ratified at Easter as the "new and eternal covenant."

In reality, Mary's "yes" is the reflection of Christ's own "yes" when he entered the world, as is noted in the Letter to the Hebrews in an interpretation of Psalm 39: "As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7). The Son's obedience is reflected in the Mother's and thus, by the meeting of these two "yeses," God was able to take on a human face. This is why the annunciation is also a Christological feast, because it celebrates a central mystery of Christ: his incarnation.

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your Word." Mary's reply to the angel is extended in the Church, which is called to make Christ present in history, offering its own availability so that God might continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The "yes" of Jesus and Mary is in this way renewed in the "yes" of the saints, especially the martyrs, who are killed because of the Gospel.

I emphasize this because yesterday, March 24, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, we celebrated the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Missionary Martyrs: bishops, priests, religious, and lay people who were cut down as they carried out their mission of evangelization and human betterment.

These missionary martyrs, as this year's theme says, are the "hope for the world," because they bear witness that the love of Christ is stronger than violence and hate. They did not seek out martyrdom, but they were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom is justified only as the supreme act of love for God and our brothers.

In this Lenten season we often contemplate the Madonna as on Calvary she seals the "yes" she pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, the testimony of the Father's love, Mary lived martyrdom of the soul. Let us call on her intercession with confidence, so that the Church, faithful to her mission, bear courageous witness to God's love before the whole world.

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In Italian, he said:]

Next Sunday we celebrate the solemn and suggestive liturgy of Palm Sunday, with which we begin Holy Week. In these circumstances the 22nd World Youth Day will take place.

This year's theme is Jesus' commandment: "As I have loved you, love one another" (John 13:34). To prepare ourselves for this day and the celebration of Easter, I invite the young people of the Diocese of Rome to a penitential liturgy that I will preside over on the afternoon of Thursday, March 29, in St. Peter's Basilica. Those who wish to may approach the sacrament of confession, a true encounter with God's love, which every man needs to live in joy and in peace.
(Emphasis added.)

Five raams please ...

[Via India Uncut] BBC NEWS | Business | Dutch give nod to 'guru currency' The "raam" started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is being used in the Netherlands.
A new "currency" issued by a group founded by Beatles guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi may be used and has not violated Dutch law, the Dutch central bank has said.

The Global Country of World Peace, set up by the Indian mystic, issued the brightly coloured notes of one, five and 10 "raam" last October.

Since then, more than 100 Dutch shops, some of them part of big department store chains, in 30 villages and cities have accepted the notes.
Do what?

John 8

Pontifications quotes St. Augustine's comments on the story of the woman caught in adultery, as narrated in the eight chapter of St. John's gospel, which was the reading this past Sunday.
What is this Lord? Are you giving approval to immorality? Not at all. Take note of what follows: Go and sin no more.

You see then that the Lord does indeed pass sentence, but it is sin he condemns, not people.

One who approved of immorality would have said; “Neither will I condemn you. Go and live as you please; you can be sure that I will acquit you. However much you sin, I will release you from all penalty, and from the tortures of hell and the underworld.”

He did not say that. He said: “Neither will I condemn you; you need have no fear of the past, but beware of what you do in the future. Neither will I condemn you: I have blotted out what you have done; now observe what I have commanded, in order to obtain what I have promised.”

A Person not an ideology

This is something that Pope Benedict has said often and in many different ways, not least in his first encyclical: that at the heart of Christianity is a Person, not an ideology. These thoughts are deveoped in this brief article on evangelization by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, of Communion and Liberation. Here are some salient points:
As Father Giussani has written, Christian evangelization is destroyed when we embrace the illusion that a non-Christian culture (where Christianity’s originating events are of no concern) should be confronted and overcome by a Christian culture (cf Dal temperamento un metodo, p 53). This, he says, is a deadly “fundamental error” that can tempt us, but which must be firmly rejected.
We cannot place our hopes on the creation of a “Christian culture,” and even less on going back to an idyllic past where Christianity maintained cultural hegemony. Such historical developments are not for us to design or plan. We do not know and will never know the “time plan” which the Father has for human history.
Instead, we must place our hope not on cultural proposals but on the event of Christ, on something that has already happened. Evangelization is to give witness to the fact–to the verifiable fact–that this event can and does still happen today because it has happened to us as something unforeseen, something amazing that surprises us, something that is not the result of our efforts or our particular ethical and spiritual predispositions. It is this that gives rise to concern, because an event is something that touches the heart, that changes us, that gives us a new vision of life’s possibilities.
To believe that one becomes a Christian through the proper philosophy, theology, spirituality, morality, or cultural project, is a presumption; it is to see our efforts as the cause of our belonging to Christ. Instead, we become Christians because the Incarnation happened in history, because the Paschal Mystery happened, because Pentecost happened, and because those events continue to happen in the world today. They happen now because they happened then and because the Church exists in the world as the life of a communion of persons created by these events, and making them present today through the sacraments. They happen because Christ has risen from the dead and can be encountered today with exactly the same results experienced by Andrew, James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalen, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Zaccheus, and the criminal at the cross next to His. Something happened to them. It was an event. The key to the Christian life, the point of departure, is not an intellectual or cultural proposal. It is this event. This is what creates the concern which post-Christian man has so tragically lost. Evangelization is to give witness of our amazement at this unimaginable event. Evangelization is confession.
I wish we could all remember this, especially as the din of the culture-war drowns out everything else. Do check out the comments on this passage at this neat blog. [Hat tip to Bill Cork.] A Person, not an ideology. I wonder how things would look if all of us really believed that, and acted as if it were true?

Ecclesia Virtualis

Busted Halo has put up videos (via YouTube of course!) of the recent panel discussing the Catholic blogosphere, (which featured Amy Welborn, Rocco Palmo and Grant Gallicho of dotCommonweal).

Interesting stuff! Check it out. [Via Bill Cork.]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sabarmati Ashram

Went up to Ahmedabad for a day trip to visit relatives today. We used to live there in the 80s, and my last visit was in 1995. It's unrecognizable, having grown so much in the past decade. Driving on the new National Expressway 1 was neat though -- cuts travel time down to about 1h30 from the 2-3 it used to take. Slowly, ever so slowly, the much lamented lack of infrastructure is being tackled ...

Stopped by the Sabarmati Ashram for a brief visit in the hot afternoon (the mercury registered 39C, 102.2F). There were visitors present, foreign tourists as well as domestic ones (it was a Sunday afternoon after all). The riverfront -- the site of a rather lame sound and light show, was largely empty -- only mad dogs and Englishmen, as the saying goes. The museum and library, in a structure designed by the famous architect Charles Correa*, has that neglected feel of a slightly dilapidated government office.

Gandhi, despite the efforts of Munnabhai, is forgotten in everything but name.

The Sabarmati river. The water used to come up right up to the walls of the Ashram.
Now, the banks are being widened on both sides for a riverfront project.

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*Do check out Charles Correa's website -- photos of the Ashram museum (and a Google Earth bookmark as well which clearly shows the pattern of the roof), as well as many others of his work

Prayers for Dogwood's mom

Just got an email that good friends Dogwood and wife are up in VA -- Dogwood's mom has been hospitalized (complications due to influenza?). I haven't heard much else right now. Prayers please!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

पराजय का चटका

निराशा की धूल खाते हुए हम सब। लड़ेगा तो हारेगा ... जाए बाढ में पैप्सी और उनके नारे! जाएँ चुल्लु भर पानी में जा डूब मरें सब! बस उस 1983 की तसवीर के सपने देखते रह जाएँ, जैसे कोई दूर फासले में धीरे धीरे गायब होता हुआ दृश्य।

आ जा वापस, टीम इंडिया, पैरों के बीच दुम लेकर! नाक कट गई दुनिया के सामने। बाकी कुछ बोलना फिज़ूल।

Friday, March 23, 2007


We're going to crash out of the World Cup. What a pathetic show. I'm not staying up to watch the rest of this.

It's gonna be tough ...

[Ganguly embracing Tendulkar (?) after Sangakkara's dismissal.]

After a promising start -- tight bowling, tight fielding, not too many boundaries, and getting some big batters out early (Jayasuriya and Jayawardane especially) -- India let the Sri Lankans put a solid total on the scoreboard. We're chasing 254. The team doesn't do well under pressure, and history, it seems, is against India -- it's only twice in ODI history on this pitch that a team batting second has scored more.

And why the heck did we give away so many extras? 28 to be precise? So many wides and bys?

Regardless, it's going to be an exciting and nerve wracking second half. (Assuming we don't just crumble. It's happened often enough!).

I think I'll be up late ... :) ['Sides there's a bond movie showing on Star Movies -- great filler during the commercials ... Have I ever mentioned that there are way too many commercials on Indian TV? Even on friggin' HBO!]

Outraging the modesty of a woman

That's how Lord Maculay's baby, the Indian Penal Code, describes rape. An op-ed piece in today's Indian Express argues that the code is vague, especially when it comes to definitions of molestation, child abuse, and criminalizing attempted rape. It's hardly surprising just how Neanderthal the law's attitude is. Rape is quite often not taken seriously enough, women continue to be stigmatized and victimized and blamed, offenders are let off easily and so on.
The recent Supreme Court judgment in the Ramkripal case by Justices Ajit Pasayat and S.H. Kapadia has brought clarity to section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 354 deals with assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty in circumstances in which the offender intends to so do or knows that it is likely that his actions will have the same result, but it does not define what constitutes a woman’s modesty.

Now Ramkripal has filled that void. The Supreme Court has said that “the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex” and that “the act of pulling a woman, removing her saree, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse... would be an outrage of the modesty of the woman; and the knowledge that modesty is likely to be outraged, is sufficient to constitute the offence.”

But the problem is that the definition of molestation makes an assault on a woman culpable only if it is done with the intention of outraging her modesty. Redressal has been problematic in the absence of a liberal and expansive definition of ‘modesty’ and ‘intention of outraging’, courts have displayed a patriarchal mindset in dealing with the victim.

That brings us to the offence of rape defined in section 375, IPC. Rape is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine. The offence is constituted only when ‘penetration’ is present.

Me want ...

...these beautiful stamps! [Via Amy] Ok, I haven't actually collected stamps since I was, oh, 18 or so. And I don't have any place to put these but they're pretty. Tanti auguri Papa Bene!

My novice brother featured in Knoxville paper

Well, former novice brother to be precise. In the East Tennessee Catholic, the Diocese of Knoxville paper.
“Buster has a joyful nature and that unmistakable Tennessee spirit. He will no doubt be a welcome addition to those in discernment in our novitiate and a gift to the church wherever the Spirit leads him in the future. Of course, I am praying the Spirit agrees with me that he would make a great Paulist priest.”

Mr. Woody’s father, Paul, died six years ago. His mother, Mary Ford Woody, is a retired postmaster and still lives on the family farm where her son grew up. She is among the more devoted readers of the ETC.

“She reads The East Tennessee Catholic and circles the articles that she likes and makes sure that I see them too,” said her son.

Mrs. Woody is also president of the Buster Woody fan club.

“She’s still Baptist, and when I first became a Catholic years ago, she was a little leery, but now she’s my biggest cheerleader,” said Mr. Woody.
Go Buster! :-)

This is it ...

... tonight's the night. India has to beat Sri Lanka, else we're out of the World Cup. Yes, the performance against Bermuda was as spectacular as the one against Bangladesh was pathetic.

It's gonna be tough. The Bangladeshi bowling assault that brought us to our knees last Saturday was easily fended off by the Lankans on Wednesday.

Here's to hope, and to the joys of watching cricket through the night. Go India! Ladegaa to jeetegaa and all that.

[And please, can we stop all this superstitious cr*p?
Some astrologers have predicted that March 23 will be an auspicious day for Team India and it will be able to register a victory over Sri Lankan team. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are predicted to perform well, as is Munaf Patel, according to astrologers
Let's hope the boys rely more on their skills and teamwork, rather than the friggin' stars, or the thousands of havans that are undoubtedly going on around the country.]

The seamy side of cricket

Bob Woolmer was murdered. Speculation is rife about this having to do with bookies and match fixing, and huge amounts of money changing hands.

Not cricket this. Definitely not.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Taedet animam meam vitae meae

Not exactly similar, but not too distant from Psalm 44, are those piercing, powerful words from the tenth chapter of the Book of Job. (Set to haunting polyphony at the very beginning of Spanish composer Tomas Luís de Victoria's Requiem, one of my favorite piecese of renaissance choral music.)
"I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why thou dost contend against me. Does it seem good to thee to oppress, to despise the work of thy hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Hast thou eyes of flesh? Dost thou see as man sees? Are thy days as the days of man, or thy years as man's years, that thou dost seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although thou knowest that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of thy hand?

Thy hands fashioned and made me; and now thou dost turn about and destroy me? Remember that thou hast made me of clay; and wilt thou turn me to dust again? Didst thou not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? Thou didst clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and steadfast love; and thy care has preserved my spirit. Yet these things thou didst hide in thy heart; I know that this was thy purpose.

If I sin, thou dost mark me, and dost not acquit me of my iniquity. If I am wicked, woe to me! If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction. And if I lift myself up, thou dost hunt me like a lion, and again work wonders against me; thou dost renew thy witnesses against me, and increase thy vexation toward me; thou dost bring fresh hosts against me. "Why didst thou bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go whence I shall not return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is as darkness."

Awake lord!

Every month, on the Thursday of the fourth week of the Psalter, Psalm 44 rolls around in the Office of Readings. And every week, the last few lines strike me. The Psalm is an exilic one, lamenting the fate that has befallen Israel, the ruin that has befallen her. And then comes this:
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten thee, or been false to thy covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from thy way, that thou shouldst have broken us in the place of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread forth our hands to a strange god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Nay, for thy sake we are slain all the day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse thyself! Why sleepest thou, O Lord? Awake! Do not cast us off for ever! Why dost thou hide thy face? Why dost thou forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body cleaves to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Deliver us for the sake of thy steadfast love! (RSV, emphasis added)
In place of the normal acknowledgment that what has come to pass is a result of Israel's faithlessness, of God abandoning her to her harlotry (to paraphrase Hosea's imagery a bit), there is this strain of (self?) righteous indignation, morphing into a plaintive cry. "Why has this happened? Our hearts were not false! God must have fallen asleep! Wake up! Arise! Help us!" I'm not sure what it is about these lines that strike me -- the seemingly brazen self-confidence? The sense of bewilderment? The cry -- betraying the faintest hint of panic -- that God wake up? I don't know. In these past few months I've found myself really praying through these sentiments.

Shrines: visible signs of God's loving power

According to Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the CBCI (the Indian Bishops' conference). [Via Zenit.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm not sure where to begin

Amy sent this link to me: Borrowing in faith: Kerala church creates ripples - - News on Borrowing in faith: Kerala church creates ripples. Just go read it.

If one wants to convert a church into a Hindu temple, well fine, but say that it's a Hindu temple, and don't pretend it's a church.

There is interreligious dialogue -- a central part of the Christian witness especially in a pluralistic society such as India -- and then there is a complete capitulation to the religious relativism that is a key motif of Hinduism.

Some things are quite unproblematic:
Even the Last Supper as portrayed by Da Vinci reflects a strong indigenisation.

Christ and his disciples are shown seated eating from banana leaves.
And some even admirable:
"Without any discrimination on the basis of caste or religion and seeing everyone as equals, it is a good thing," added Joseph, Devotee.
Absolutely, but that's what Christianity preaches. It doesn't need to pretend to be Hindu to do so! And then ...
And atop the Church is a huge "Om" where there's normally a crucifix. Father Antony insists there's a method to this confluence of religious symbolism.

"Most of the Rig Veda symbols are neutral. They do not pertain to any religion, not even to Hinduism. Say "Om" or the kirtans in Rig Veda - they go beyond religion and Gods. They are part of a universal religious search and can be practiced by all religions," he added.
Yes, definitely. And how many mosques does one see with the "universal" Om atop the minar?

How has this been received? Well I'm sure the general sense among the largely Hindu elite will be: oh good, finally someone among the Christians gets it. "No one path is better than another. All roads lead to the mountain" and all that are axiomatic here, where any kind of departure from this mantra is seen as dangerously sectarian, leading to violence. According to the news report however,
Public opinion is divided in this small fishing hamlet. While some see it as an attempt to convert people to Christianity, others view it as a dilution of the Christian ethos.
So, let's just pretend to be Hindu, and the Hindus will still think we're just sheep in wolves' clothing.

But who would want to convert to a Christianity that is, well, basically Hindu?

And why just Vedic Sanskritic Brahmanical Hinduism? In all my experience of top-down "inculturation" in India (mainly in long conversations with Jesuits at Pune's De Nobili College years ago), my constant question was -- why just this slice of Hinduism? What about other dimensions of Hindiusm? What about the Dalit experience? And what about that other Indian religion, which has coexisted with the majority in the subcontinent for a millenium: Islam? Why doesn't "inculturation" lead to some kind of Islamization of things? And what about the genuine culture of Latin Christianity that has developed in places like Goa, organically and unplanned over the past 500 years? Does that not count for anything? Is it all just colonial baggage?

I recall a conversation with John Allen in Rome, when we were talking about evangelization. He thought that there were many elements in the Indian church that didn't even think it was necessary. I nodded; I'd come across that sentiment often.

Well, here's a nice example (and I'm basing all of this on this NDTV report; I know nothing else of this project) of the dominant culture "evangelizing" Christianity.

And for a church that doesn't even display the crucifix, well, it might be wise for them (and for all of us) to remember St. Paul's words to the Corinthians about the Cross: foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. And, it would seem, to some Catholics in Kerala as well.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Wow! Go India!

:: UPDATE :: India beat Bermuda by a record 257 runs! Shabash!

Well, the men in blue redeem themselves. A record score of 413 for 5, the highest ever in World Cup Cricket, and only 5 other times that the runs have crossed the 400 mark in ODI history! And man, was it fun to watch? Especially the series of sixes and fours in the Tendulkar-Yuvraj partnership at the end ... a total of 31 boundaries and 18 sixes! A run rate of 8.25! And Sehwag certainly saved himself with that fantastic century.

And a nice finish, with skipper Dravid ending the innings on a sixer, a shandar chackka as the old radio commentators were wont to say ...

Yes, it was against Bermuda, but, after Saturday's humiliation, we needed this.

Of course, it's not over yet. This was only the first innings. We have to keep Bermuda's score down (I heard at some point that we need to beat them by a margin of 150 runs. Something about net run rates). However, I'm not staying up through the night to see Bermuda bat -- I'll see in the morning how we did. [Just hope the rain doesn't screw things up! That would suck!]

My American friends are always stunned when I tell them just how long a cricket match lasts -- five days for a proper Test match (with an additional rest day thrown in the middle). One day (hence ODI -- one day international) for the "shorter version," which is now more popular, and which is what the World Cup consists of.

The jubilation is clouded over by tragedy, however -- Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room last night and died in hospital later. So far it's not clear what happened, though the speculation is pointing to an accidental drug overdose. (Incidentally, the English Woolmer was born in Kanpur, India.)

San Giuseppe!

It's the feast of St. Joseph. Mike Aquilina has the goods. Strong Silent Type.

Do pray for his friend Joseph who has liver cancer.

[And for my friend Savio's mother, whose colon cancer has turned out to be much worse than imagined -- they're talking about a few more months.

It's a treacherous, evil disease.]

I'll die to get that upgrade ...

Or get one after I die? Top News- Woman Dies on Flight, Gets Upgraded - AOL News. A rather tragic little story though. I can imagine the pain the daughter must have gone through.

And yes, it would be distressing for sure, but what could one expect the airline to do? Put the corpse down with the luggage?

The occasional thought on liturgy in India

I'm surprised that it hasn't happened before, but it was only a matter of time before one of my fellow Indians took umbrage, or got defensive, at my comments about my experience of the liturgy in India, as an anonymous commenter does below. I started out in the combox, but it grew into its own post.

Hey anon: First of all, thanks for taking the time to give some critical feedback in a very charitable manner. This past year (a few months in the summer of 2006 and a couple of months here) has been the the longest I've spent in India as a Catholic ... and this post is really a part of an ongoing struggle of mine to understand Indian Catholic parish life. Yes, in this sense I do see everything through Western eyes -- though I came to the faith through God's grace in India, all but two weeks of my life as a baptized Catholic have been spent in the US. In most respects, as a Catholic, I'm American. I won't apologize for that part.

A couple of other things: my experience of India is limited geogrpahically: lots in Bombay, then Pune, then Vadodara and then Delhi. That's it. I have no experience of liturgy in the Southern heartlands. And, this latest post has been preceeded by several others (see below) where I share my thoughts, both negative and postive, about Indian liturgy. This one was one of the more critical ones.

Nor do I really stand back from any comments about the liturgy -- even as I try my best not to let a critical eye on the liturgy lead to spiritual pride and other ills -- but, the liturgy is the source and summit of our Christian lives. The Church asks that it be celebrated faithfully and beautifully. In my experience, at least the latter part, is lacking. That's harsh, but I'm sharing my observations.

I do apologize that what came across in this rather irritated post of mine was a disparagment of the devotion of the people; that wasn't intended and that is one thing that I've found has always humbled me and impressed me in India and inspired me every time. Nor have I ever disparaged anyone's holiness -- lay or priest! I hope I never do that, for that is among the worst forms of spiritual pride.

I would hope that informed proclamation, good preaching, decent and inspiring singing and music, an appreciation for the Liturgy of Word, well planned and devoutly celebrated liturgies, etc. are not mutually exclusive to a vibrant devotional life. Nor really should there be any kind of anti-intellectualism in the Catholic Church.

One thing I tend to try and be clear about, and I'm sorry that I really wasn't clear in this post (since not everyone who reads one post will be aware of past comments and conversations) -- I share my thoughts with a full sense that I'm being critical at a surface level. I go to Mass. I have tried (at least last summer I did) to get more involved in the parish, but wasn't sure how to do it best. The way I would have in the US -- talking the priest -- didn't result in much of anything, and I will fully acknowledge I didn't try more. My goal during my time in India, however, was not to be involved in a parish, but to spend time with my parents, especially my ill father. So, I have not really gone deeper into Indian Catholic life, gotten involved in parish life, or (apart from college friends) really know any other Indian Catholics! That's a huge grain of salt, for sure.

Finally, I don't think this is just me. I've had others share similar thoughts -- both expats who live in India, as well as Catholic friends who've settled overseas.

If anyone is interested, here are the links to past posts on the topic of Indian liturgy.

New Year's Day, 2006. My very first post about Mass in India, this one at a Gujarati Mass.
Exile (The very first lament.)
St. Anthony of Padua (At daily Mass.)
Trinity Sunday (Where I find that everything isn't as bleak as it seemed a few weeks prior.)
Vianney Sunday (Mass in Pune)
August 15th at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Delhi
Adoration and Ad-Libbing Mass in Bandra, November 2005.
Feast of the Holy Family, December 2006.
Advent IV in Delhi.
Driving in search of Jesus, where I end up at a really large outdoor Gujarati Mass.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Daily Mass, March 2007.
Feast of the Sacred Heart in Bombay

I'm sure there will be lots in US parishes that could be disconcerting to a visitor from India. Nothing said about Indian parishes implies that US (or other) parishes are above criticism.

And finally, all said and done, despite these comments that might suggest otherwise, I try and remind myself that we are all part of a universal Body that transcends all divisions, especially those of culture and nation, and if there is to be criticism, it should always be in a spirit of charity. My hope is that my observations do not stray beyond those bounds.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rise India

I thought I heard the dhinchak keyboard dude say "Hymn 231" for the recessional. It wasn't ... but this is how hymn 231 goes:
Rise India and lead thy millions
to follow Christ thy king
From Com'rin's point to Everest peak
Christ's triumph you will sing
Clearly a hymn for the feast of Christ the King. In all the Masses I've been to in India, the only time I've actually heard this sung (and I have not the faintest clue as to the melody) was one 15th of August (Independence day), years ago in the Cathedral in Bombay.

I'd be surprised if it were sung at all these days. Partly because there's such confusion surrounding "missionary zeal" in the church these days, and a distaste for language that seems "intolerant" or "superior" or what have you. Partly because it smacks of pre-conciliar triumphalism. Partly because one wouldn't want to piss the RSS off, I suppose.

Now I'm no religious relativist, however, I can't imagine singing this in church. It reeks of odious colonialism, somewhow. Of propah pukka-sahibs going off to the white-only gymkhana to have their gin and tonic and bear the white man's burden.

Christianity carries that baggage enough around here already.

Laetare Ierusalem

Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.

Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.
Well, there was no mention of "Laetare Sunday" (or rose vestments) at Mass here, and don't even think about Latin. (Heck, it would be nice if they'd read the GIRM, let alone Sacramentum Caritatis. Ok. Stop.) The preaching was actually, for a change, decent -- coherent, composed, and thought-through, rather than the incomprehensible ramble that I've grown accustomed to hearing. (When it seems that the congregation is dead and no one actually really cares about the Liturgy of the Word -- saying that nearly half the assembly arrives somewhere after the Gospel would not be completely off the mark -- why on earth would the priest actually put any energy into his homily?)

However, I'm not too sure I quite understood the message. The first two readings (with that wonderful Eucharistic symbolism in Joshua) were not mentioned. As far as the Prodigal Son was concerned, he mentioned something that I'd never really thought about -- how the pace of the father, who goes out running to meet his son, compares to the dejected, downcast shuffle of the son who is returning. That part was fine, and I perked up. I won't be spending this homily trying my hardest not to feel irritated, but praying for the priest instead, and generally failing on both counts.

The rest went something along these lines:
  • we identify with the father's response because it seems so natural: this is what a parent is supposed to do. It's a natural instinct, to love a child. But, if one thinks about it, the father's reaction was very calculated and thought out, it wasn't just instinctive.

  • Christian love, Christian affection is one that doesn't "take action" (I understood that to mean, one that doesn't react blindly, but restrains the passions.), one that doesn't keep score or count, one that is ready to forget (forgive?), one that is willing to be vulnerable and hurt, again and again. [Me: squirm, squirm. Oh, I never keep score!]

  • There was a turn then to the beatitudes, about going the extra mile, turning the cheek, giving not just the cloak but the inner garment. We are supposed to do this in house, within our families, between husband and wife, parents and children, brother and sister, in house, but not with strangers.
This point -- we are called to behave in this way "in house and not with strangers" was repeated a few times. I have to say I was really troubled by that. What is the parable of the Good Samaritan about, if not that there are no strangers? "Who is my neighbor?" the lawyer asks Jesus, to trap him. Well, to give the good Father the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he meant we should start in house. Change begins at home and all that; you can't pretend to be a Christian and not be reconciled at home; don't bring your gift to the altar until you are reconciled with your brother. That's fine. But that's not actually what he said.

Besides, at least in my understanding, one of the central points of Jesus' teachings is that all this transcends family and tribe and clan and caste and nationality and ethnicity and just natural bonds. "He who does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and my brother and my sister" as he famously says in Mark 3.

I'd have gone up to get a better sense of the meaning of the homily -- except, as is the norm here, the priests disappeared behind the magic screen ... um ... into the sacristy, at the end of Mass.

Turns out the visiting celebrants (one in a purple chasuble, and one in just a purple stole) were Redemptorist missionaries. (They're kinda cousins to the Paulsts you know, for those who're familiar with the history of Father Hecker and his band.)

They will be leading a parish mission starting next Sunday evening, and going on for a week. Now I've never been to a parish mission in India, so I'll be checking this out!

We're half way through Lent! I'm afraid, a part of me is getting excited that I will be back Stateside in a few weeks, and away from liturgy here!

And here's a link to a page with an mp3 of the beautiful entrance antiphon for today's liturgy. Needless to say, nothing came close to this at Mass here.

[I just realized that this would have been the Second Scrutiny, with the reading from John 9 of the man being born blind. Nope, no sign of RCIA here either.]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Red and green

[Picture from Times of India]

I'm seeing red: India put on a pathetic performance against Bangladesh in our first match of the World Cup today. All out at 191! Izzat ka falooda as we say in Bombay. Oh those terrible 10 minutes, when the score went from 151 for 4 to 159 for 9! And what a bizarre innings -- the second best partnership was between the two tail end batsmen, Munaf Patel (apro. He's from the neighboring Bharuch district) and Zahir Khan? Sachin scored 7, and Dhoni went out on a duck?

Against Bangladesh!

Besharam salay! I'm not going to stay up to see if we can keep them from catching up in their innings. I wouldn't hold my breath. (They've already made 50 runs off 10 overs. That's a run rate of 5. We never even made 4.)

Forget actually winning the World Cup, can we even get to a darn semifinal?

I'm seeing green: well the deep green of Bangladesh's uniforms and flag. But also the emerald green of Eire. The consolation has been that Pakistan (even more green there!) put on an even more pathetic performance against Ireland! All out for only 132! Ha! Lots of shamrocks were in evidence in the stands. Éirinn go Brách! On St. Paddy's day too! :-)

:: Update :: -- Didn't realize that being defeated by the Irish meant that Pakistan is now out of the world cup! I should curb the schadenfreude ... our situation is not much better.

Oh and here's Uber Desi on the St. Patrick's day massacres.

From the primate of All Ireland

[Via Amy] ... a message from Archbishop Sean Brady:
The impending celebration of the principal Patron of Ireland moves me to ask myself, first of all, and to reflect to all who truly love Christ a simple, but what I consider, a deep question:

Apart from the functional liturgical remembrance of Patrick on Saturday 17 March 2007; apart from the civil and political and military parades in Dublin and elsewhere; apart from frivolous ways of displaying, explaining and drowning the shamrock, what is the importance of Patrick for our struggle to follow Christ in this twenty-first century? Has he anything to offer by way of example or inspiration? What does his own spiritual presence mean to his beloved Irish people?
That Good News could be briefly set out in this rough summary of Patrick's own words: "Through me, unlettered rustic though I be, the offer is made to you all, my dearest Irish people, of this priceless opportunity; to be made one with the God of my Lord and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, God of compassion and love, who brings healing and holiness and joy and peace of mind to all. The God of my Lord and teacher is the only God, who loves all children and women and men without exception. Let nothing and no one ever separate you from Him, no matter how noble or patriotic or profitable the excuse! Because my dearest Irish people, His love, is everything."
Amen! And wonderfully put! I hope more people reflect on this as we remember this great evangelist and saint today.

And take a moment today to pray the famous "Breastplate" of St. Patrick:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.
[Well, do pray the whole thing!]

Happy Bacchanalian Pagan Fest ...

... well, isn't that what March 17 has become? Even in a mid-sized southern city like Columbia, SC? Isn't that why hordes of folks drive down to Savannah to paint River Street green? (And other colors once the contents of their stomachs have been regurgitated into the gutters?)

Oh don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against celebrating la dolce vita, and enjoy a round (or three) of beer as much as the next guy.

But really, it's just become another excuse to paaarday ... with lots of big corporate sponsorship subsidizing displays of public drunkenness.

And what does it have to do with this guy?

The story of the Jews of Baghdad

The Tablet reviews two books on the emigration and almost complete disappearance of Iraq's Jews. Another long-gone sign of that (relatively speaking) Ottoman pluralism.
While Benjamin constructs for us the context within which this small world was held and understood, both accounts present an Iraq that no longer exists. Both her book and Kattan's, with their depiction of the uneasy conviviality of a former age, are nostalgic; but they also vividly demonstrate the sad contemporary reality that this is the end of that political space in which those diverse peoples and religions that have made the Middle East were able to live side by side. It has taken only two or three generations for that world to be dismantled: in Farewell, Babylon, Kattan recalls experiencing anti-Semitism in the 1930s, when the Iraqi Government sought an alliance with Nazi Germany, raising the horrible possibility of the Shoah being visited upon the Jewish communities of the Middle East.

Over the last century, genocide, war, ideology and emigration have made it apparently impossible for different peoples to live together. The Middle East today is fast becoming a region of many small statelets - all of which are resistant to the possibility of ethnic or religious diversity.

This is the experience of both Jews and Christians in the area; and we are now seeing that historical reality taking its toll on Iraqi Muslims. The beginning of the modern era of Europe is considered by many historians to have been constructed from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, by which ruling princes could choose the religion of their subjects. What followed that treaty was centuries of religious strife which ended in secular conflict.

In these two striking accounts of Jewish life in the old communities of Baghdad we can hear echoes of this drama played out in the Middle East.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oh stop asking the nanny state to ban things for you!

This Indian attitude of, "This offends my religion! It should be banned!" is really getting under my skin. We've seen it played out all the time, by every darn religious group. Including Christians. And of course the netas comply. It's all about those votes you see. One can feel good and Christian because one asked Sarkar to ban DVC or The Last Temptation of Christ, and then walk right past the slums on the other side of Bandra station. Sheesh. /vent.

(That's actually not entirely fair, since Christians are among the forefront of those helping the poor in India.)

Now it's happening again because of that stupid "documentary" about Jesus' "Tomb." Cries of "ban it" are rising up.

People, that's not the way to respond. Especially to something whose supposed "scientific" foundation is so darn flimsy. Can we respond like grown ups?

It's no wonder that in the English-speaking Indian blogosphere, ie. in the blogosphere inhabited by people from that little privileged sliver of Indian society that I also belong to, there is such a rampant distaste for religion. (Though I'm not sure what can justify such ridiculously crude sentiments such as these.)

(And just what did the Pope say about Dylan? It was all over the news wires in my inbox a week back. I ignored it, since I was certain that something was being taken outrageously out of context. No, that never happens with news coverage of the Vatican. I guess I'll have to look it up, now that even DNA in Bombay is talking about the Pope and Dylan.)

Mr. Foster sails down the Ganga

The Telegraph's Delhi correspondent has begun his journey sailing down the Ganga (Ganges), and is blogging about it. (One suspects at some point this might even become a book and adorn the non-fiction stand at Crosswords, which is always crowded with so many fascinating books on India by foreigners -- both Western and Indian :). Heck, I just picked up Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods, not too soon after reading Pavan Varma's Being Indian, which is simply unputdownable, and, right on the money.)

In his very first post, he indulges in some parenthetical inter-religious dialogue of sorts.
For a Catholic-born Christian like me, the Hindu religion is extremely difficult to get to grips with - I've often wondered what goes through a Hindu's mind when he prays. Is it substantially the same as a Christian or Muslim, or something altogether different?

In a religion populated by so many different Gods manifesting so many different aspects of spiritual life and yet addressing the profound questions of existence which confront all human beings equally, it is hard for someone brought up in a highly prescriptive, monotheistic religion like Catholic Christianity to empathise and understand.
The comments turn out to be a bit predictable - Hindus getting their Irish up about the evils of prejudiced Christianity, and one lone Benedictine taking Mr. Foster to task for his lack of theological preciseness. I put some thoughts of my own up there, which may or may not show up (they are moderated), but forgot to copy then before I hit the "submit" button! Oh well ... [Ah, they made it through!]

And actually, at one level, I've never had the kind of "discomfiture" that I've heard about from my co-religionists when it comes to Hinduism or polytheism. Guess that comes from growing up Hindu.

[I wanted to link to some thoughts that I'd written down a while back, after a vist a road-side shrine St. Anthony in Pune.) but the comment interface warned that html wasn't allowed.]

The Pope Letter in the news

Come on, is anyone really surprised at the coverage Sacramentum Caritatis is getting in the mainstream media? That there can be several reports on this document that don't even mention the word Eucharist?

St. Blog's is hardly the "real world," so to speak. My humble contribution to a better quality of information dissemenination is to repeat, to anyone who cares to hear (and sitting in western India where the temperatures just reminded us that summer is around the corner, that is really a very few people!), "don't read the newspapers for most of your Catholic stories. Just don't! Go to the blogosphere!"

Bill Cork picks up a few howlers here and here, Robert Imbelli at dotCommonweal nails it, "Swallowing the Gnat," and Terry Mattingly at Get Religion feels our pain, that this "complex, bookish pope letter" just isn't, well, got.

Magister's "crib notes" on the AE

"Everyone to Mass on Sundays. Well the AE* is a whole lot more than that. I'm a bit surprised at that choice of title, actually. Magister gives a short summary of the different sections of the exhortation dealing with various topics. Not a bad place to start, apart from the text itself! :)

*AE = Apostolic Exhortation. One has to think of something to distinguish the abbreviation SC, Sacramentum Caritatis from Sacrosanctum Consilium of the Council! Of course, "the AE" cannot be used indefinitely. At some poing there might be another one ... :-)

Election of SC bishop invalidated

That's the Episcopal bishop of South Carolina, which comprises the lower half of the state, and is based in Charleston. Apparently the problem was getting a majority of "consents" from standing committees of the various diocese of TEC. Well, actually, it seems the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence (until now a pastor in California) got a majority, but three of these consents were electronic in format, and not canonically valid.

The controversy behind all this is, of course, the issue that has been tearing at TEC for the past several years (and not just TEC). Fr. Lawrence was on the "conservative" side of things, and, apparently, there was a lot of debate (especially on the internet) during the past 120 day period (actually extended by 3 days to allow time for late ballots to arrive in the mail) during which the various diocese of TEC had to send in their consents. From the Post & Courier
Since 2003, when the openly gay Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire, the church has struggled to reconcile a "broad tent" view held by the majority of adherents with a view held by a small faction of dissenters who oppose what they call the liberalization of the church in the U.S. The dissenters have sought to align with other parts of the global Anglican Communion, especially churches in Nigeria and Rwanda, which have been actively courting unhappy parishes and dioceses in the U.S. and Canada.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon of the South Carolina diocese called the razor-thin vote "very disturbing." For someone as well-qualified as Lawrence to encounter such resistance bodes ill for the future of the church, he said.

"This is about trust. What you have is a community where trust has broken down," Harmon said. "It's a real tragedy, because good people are being badly hurt."

In recent months, Lawrence had indicated a willingness to leave the Episcopal Church if it failed to repudiate its endorsement of gay marriage and ordination and embrace a more orthodox view of Scripture. He also wrote that Jefferts Schori would not be welcome at his consecration. These comments caused many in the church to express concern over the election, a concern that lingers and is reflected in the close results of the consent vote.

Last week, in a last-ditch effort to convince doubters, Lawrence wrote a letter to standing committee members affirming his intention to abide by canon law and remain part of the Episcopal Church. In the days that followed, several standing committees reversed their votes, according to the South Carolina diocese.
More at Canon Harmon's blog, titusonenine. Here's the initial post (with 271 comments).

I am an outsider, and do not understand the technicalities and legalities of the conventions that govern TEC. But this is how it appears to an outsider: whether because of technicalities or not, an orthodox priest who was elected bishop by the Diocese of South Carolina failed to get a majority of other diocese to confirm his election.

I'm sticking to a policy of trying to comment as little as I can on the goings-on in TEC, so I won't say more.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

La Migra at work

[Via Amy] A Boston Globe article on a raid at a leather-goods factory in Massachusetts last week. This didn't make the news here, so I'm reading about it for the first time.
SUPPOSE YOU LEARN that a New England manufacturer is exploiting its employees, many of them illegal immigrants, with wretched working conditions. It fines them for talking on the job, refuses to pay overtime, and penalizes them for bathroom breaks of more than two minutes, all in addition to low wages, long hours, and squalid facilities. What do you do?

Well, if you're the United States government, you send armed agents to haul the workers off in shackles to a military base 100 miles away, then fly scores of them more than 2,000 miles to a holding pen in Texas. You provide the frightened detainees with little information and no access to lawyers. You act so rashly that many of those you seize are separated from their children and can't get word to spouses or babysitters. You display such ineptitude, in fact, that babies end up in the hospital, dehydrated, after their nursing mothers are taken away.
And the employers? Fined, and released on bail. The factory is open for business the next day.

Something stinks mightily, doesn't it?

And then:
If tens of millions of drivers consistently break the interstate speed limit, do we assume that they are all criminals who should lose their licenses and be banned from the highways? No: A more plausible explanation is that the speed limit is too low for safe highway driving and ought to be raised. By the same token, if hundreds of thousands of immigrants come here illegally each year, is it realistic to conclude that we have a massive crime problem for which a ferocious crackdown is the only solution? Perhaps it is the case instead that America's immigration quotas are simply too low for the world's most dynamic economy. And perhaps the persistent influx of industrious workers is not a plague to be cursed, but a blessing to be better managed.

Sacramentum Caritatis: Initial thoughts

Well I've finished my initial read, as well as a second glance at the document. The image that came to mind was that of a soaring eagle, something that lifts our minds, our thoughts and our hearts to a higher level, upwards, heavenwards. I was struck by just how Christ-centered everything is and just how much Scripture is quoted along with magisterial statements and the Synod propositions. There's a wealth of quotations from the Fathers as well (St. Augustine kept cropping up a lot). The sense I got was: everything leads (ought to lead) to Christ, everything flows from him - this is what this sacrament of love is about, it's at the center if you will of God's cosmic plan of salvation, of the re-creation of the whole world, the whole cosmos in Christ -- it's the new worship in Christ, the logike latria, the "rational worship" that St. Paul mentions.

And like the rays moving outwards from a monstrance, the document covers pretty much every aspect of the Christian life and links it to the Eucharist -- the Trinity, the Church's life, the paschal mystery, the liturgical celebration itself (including Eucharistic adoration, the concept of active participation, music, chant, Latin, incluturation, architecture, the placement of the tabernacle), the other sacraments (including a discussion of priestly celibacy), catechesis, evangelization and mission, prayer, the role of Catholic legislators and politicians, the social teaching of the church, concerns about secularization and globalization, environment and the ecology, and how the Blessed Mother embodies the eucharistic life of the one who is transformed in Christ.

This is not really a "how-to" manual for the liturgy (that's the GIRM), nor is it just simply saying, "hey, do liturgy this way!" It's scope is much wider, and loftier. There's a sense in which we are being asked to think about these things at a different level, to focus on the central doctrines, and most especially on the Person at the center of it all. A broad cosmic and biblical vision dovetails easily with an attention to detail; theory and its practical applications are closely tied, and one doesn't really get the sense that all this is somehow divorced from reality, even as one wonders and realizes that no one place will conform in every aspect to the ideals laid down here.

The document reads relatively easily (especially compared to the previous Pontiff!), and though the language tends to the academic, and is a bit repetitive, I never found it to be dry.

The other phrase that came to mind was also from St. Paul, and also from his Letter to the Romans, a phrase that is quoted in the text itself: "do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed in your minds." In the face of all kinds of proposals for "change" from the world, the Church will remain firm: for instance, priestly celibacy in the Latin rite is confirmed and encouraged, while the entire church is urged to redouble its efforts to promote vocations.

Finally it should be clear that while there is no new teaching, certianly no new doctrine in the strict sense of that word, what this document does is cement an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council that is by now almost settled in the upper echelons of the hierarchy and in some segments of the church: one that wants to move away from the time of ongoing experimentation, that emphasizes continuity with the past rather than a radical break, and, especially in the area of the liturgy, slowly but surely redirects our attention away from an inflated preoccupation with ourselves to the Triune God, and the sacrifice of Christ, which is the hinge of history.

I haven't really gotten into the various practical things this document says and suggests. Those might show up on here as I reread and then share some stray thoughts here and there.

Much better and more comprehensive treatments of this documents are out there: start at Amy's and go from there!

And absolutely, do read it yourself!

Of course, not everyone will be pleased, and certainly, not everyone will be pleased with everything. I, for one, am truly grateful for this extended eucharistic catechesis presented by our Holy Father.

Grazie, Papa Bene! :-)

Foreign Policy: Numbed by Numbers

Foreign Policy: Numbed by Numbers:
"If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This statement uttered by Mother Teresa captures a powerful and deeply unsettling insight into human nature: Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue “the one” whose plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is “one of many” in a much greater problem. It’s happening right now in regards to Darfur, where over 200,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the past four years and at least another 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. Why aren’t these horrific statistics sparking us to action? Why do good people ignore mass murder and genocide?"
Apparently, we're wired that way. Even when the numbers are smaller as the experiments mentioned in the article point out.

That darn human nature.

Now that we (or at least the readers of this article) are made aware of yet another bit of wiring that appears to be a little, um, awry, will this awareness alone change our behavior? One can hope, of course. And one can somehow re -jig our marketing to better fit the psyche. But actually changing that nature? Hmm ...

Charleston ordinations: July 27, 2007

Just received an email from one of the ordinands for my home Diocese, which will ordain six men this year on Friday, July 27. This is the largest class in recent years, so yes, great news indeed! Unlike in years past, when the ordinations were held in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, this year, Bishop Baker has shifted the venue to the new Convention Center in Columbia. Columbia is centrally located in the state-wide Diocese, and the venue, while nowhere near as beautiful as the Cathedral, will allow a much larger segment of the faithful to be present and participate in this joyous event.

Mark your calendars!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis ... coming out soon!

I just noticed a small spike in traffic to this blog from Google with the search term "Sacramentum Caritatis," which is the title of the forthcoming apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist. This blog is the second listing on the Google search right now. It is being released at noon CET today, which would be seven am EDT (remember Daylight Savings Time started early in the US this year. Y'all are five hours behind Rome, not six!), or 4:30 pm IST ... ie in a little less than forty five minutes.

Yep, I'm sure it'll be worth the wait!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Undercover at the health center

The Advocate is a student publication at UCLA, "A UCLA student magazine of human rights: particularly, the right to life for all human beings," (according to its description on Facebook.) The first issue is now online (warning, it's a 3MB+ pdf file). Go have a read.

In the cover story (same title as this post), a student goes "undercover" at the UCLA health center. She pretends to be unexpectedly pregnant and reports on the advice she gets from the health center counselors. For those who've been involved in any kind of work or ministry at state universities, what she reports won't really come as a surprise. While claiming to focus on "choice," the only real choice that is presented is "pregnancy termination," i.e. the deliberate killing of the child within the womb. In this case, according to the magazine, UCLA has two doctors who provide abortions, but no pre-natal care, no adoption referral services and no pregnancy support groups.

Here are some quotes that I've typed up from the pdf.

One counsellor is quoted:
[Look] forward to the physical difficulties of pregnancy. The embarrassment of your classmate, both this quarter and next quarter: living in the dorm, being pregnant in the dorm, that would be a little different. Frequency of urination -- you know, you're sitting in class. You'd have to go to the bathroom.

UCLA doesn't support people who are pregnant and make things easier for them necessarily. ...

There's not one [adoption referral] here at UCLA that I know of. I occasionally get letters from people who want to represent people who want to adoprt or people who are trying to adpot themselves. But I don't investigate it at all.
There's ways to get an abortion paid for by Medi-Cal (CA's public insurance program for those with low incomes) that would involve, basically, lying about being on a parents' insurance.
The difference is if you were terminating the pregnancy, I have a place that I can send you where they will get you signed up for the Medi-Cal coverage and they just don't ask ... But I don't think they could do that [ignore your insurance and give you Medi-Cal coverage] for pregnancy, for on-going pregnancy.
And, of course, pro-lifers get in the way of things.
I don't need more [pro-life] people out there. It makes my work more difficult.
When asked whom a pregnant student should trust, she was told not to contact a priest or religious leader or family members, but counselors at the health center. The others "have their own agenda."

The health center staff, of course do not, it would seem. They just want to make sure that every student "chooses" to abort her child.

[Disclaimer: I have no idea about the veracity of what has been presented in the Advocate. I've never been to UCLA or had any interaction with any UCLA staff. I do have my own experiences from working in South Carolina, and, as I said above, this does not surprise me. So, I am inclined to trust that these folks aren't lying. There was subterfuge involved in getting this information, yes. But that is undercover journalism. Obviously, the staff would not be so forthcoming if someone wearing a Pro Life button walked up and started asking questions.]

[Full Discolosure: one of the folks on the production team of the Advocate is a good friend of mine. I learned about this publication from his Facebook profile.]