Monday, April 30, 2007

Travelin through ...

Since Friday I've been in San Francisco.

Tomorrow, May 1: San Francisco - Honolulu - Sydney - Brisbane
Monday: Brisbane - Cairns (Great Barrier Reef)
Wednesday: Cairns - Adelaide
Sunday: Adelaide - Sydney
Wednesday: Sydney - Honolulu - Los Angeles
Thursday: Los Angeles - Columbia, SC and the end of (this round) of globe trotting. :)

Will be visiting friends in Brisbane and Adelaide. Giving Melbourne a miss -- and Uluru (Ayers Rock) while tempting is simply too darn expensive to get to. No, I'm not stopping in Honolulu: it's just a layover. Hawaiian Airlines had the most competitive fares to Australia! And I earn NW freq. flier miles as well ... :)

The wirless is down right now at the hostel here in SF. Will have more whenever it deigns to come back up.

No, I was nowhere near the section of the Bay Bridge ramp that melted yesterday. No plans to go anywhere near Oakland today ...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Christ, My Bodhisattva | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

A South Asian immigrant who came to Christ and has run for Mayor of London twice. Christ, My Bodhisattva | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
I recall my first visit to church here, my first church ever, St. Paul's Onslow Square. I went to the evening service, so none of my friends or relations would see me going. The first thing I looked for on walking in was the shoebox. I wanted to take my shoes off: This is holy ground, and you're asking me to come in with my dirty, filthy feet and go into the presence of God? This is not right; this is not holy. I must take my shoes off. But they told me there was no place for shoes. So I went to sit on the floor, in the proper position of respect, and the usher said to sit on the wooden bench. Then the organ blasted out, and I thought, Who has died? Because organ music was just for funerals in my mind. It was an alien experience. There's a whole lot of unlearning to be done in asking how we can communicate the message of Jesus with simplicity [in a way] that will take these barriers away.

In the end, I've found I've been able to use my skills in business to help start some of these translations. We've produced a series of books and cds that connect with the South Asian experience. Fortunately, I was able to pay for publication, because in the early days, not many Christian publishers were willing to take on a book that talked about Jesus as the bodhisattva who fulfilled his dharma to pay for my karma to negate samsara and achieve nirvana!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The joy of my youth

My iPod was acting up last night (the brand new one): it refused to charge. With some rather long flights coming up in the near future, I panicked for a second. Ah, but I'm in New York. There's an Apple Store in town! No, there's two! Having logged onto and made a service request appointment (self-effacingly called "Apple Concierge" and at the store itself, "The Genius Bar"), I showed up at the swank Apple store on Fifth Avenue (can any store on Fifth Avenue not be preceded by the adjective "swank?"), caddy corner from Central Park, about half an hour late. The store itself is underground, beneath the CBS offices, and one enters through a large transparent glass cube with the Apple logo suspended in midair within.

Inside there are banks and banks of iMacs and iPods and Macbooks and an army of young, hip salespeople, all in identical black tees, with the signature Apple badge -- which just happens to look like a sleek little Nano -- suspended from their necks. Vast crowds buzzing about and a tremendous din rising up through the transparent cube to be joined to the midafternoon Manhattan din outside.

For a brief second I thought I'd stepped into a benign version of some archvillain's laboratory straight out of James Bond, with black Apple tees instead of white labcoats.

Everything was Apple minimalist -- vast swathes of whitespace, broad slabs of solid, simple color. And any moment the host of shoppers would start gyrating to the music of the ears. Their ears. The sounds being piped into their brains from their gadgets, simultaneously but hardly in-sync, each in her own bubble of completely customized, self-expressive sound, hermetically sealed from her neighbor. Sleek. Chic. Hip. Young. The store screams youth.

The opening prayer from last week's Mass (for the Third Sunday of Easter) asks that we look forward with hope to our resurrection, for God has "restored the joy of our youth." These are based on the words of Psalm 42(43). Indeed, this is how the old Mass started out (as the celebrant reminded us last Sunday): Introibo ad altare dei, qui laetificat iuventutum meam. "I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth." (Douay-Rheims)

The joy of our youth. Neatly shrink-wrapped and branded. By an Apple.

My iPod was fine. It wasn't getting any juice from the laptop's USB port. I was persuaded to part with dollars to get a USB wall charger.

More on evangelization

Amy has a fantastic post up starting with the recent contretemps involving Evangelical Catholic. I posted the following comment there (it hasn't shown up yet; no idea there's issues or it's just taking time). All very incoherent, but here we go:

I'm gung-ho about the EC (Evangelical Catholic) phenomenon (my own two cents about the recent contretemps are here, ): the Catholic Church is vast and diverse and as Amy rightly points out, there's room for a variety of approaches. I've never heard anyone at EC claim that their's is the only way. To me, EC, and the other movements, are clearly in response to Pope John Paul -- who saw the state of things so clearly -- who called for a new evangelization, new in "ardor and methods and expression." The task of evangelization is indeed the whole church's, and EC, in my opinion and experiences, tries to do that by making disciples full of zeal and love for the Lord and His Church.

Another way of talking about these things is (to use the title of a recent book published by Paulist Father Bob Rivers, here's the review from America) is to emphasize mission (the mission of all believers) versus just maintenance, when it comes to our parish structures. [I recall an instance when Fr. Rivers had delivered a keynote at a conference in SC on this topic, and a friend of mine, a convert from evangelical Protestantism, leaned over and said, "This is new stuff for Catholics?] How many of our parishes are, if we're honest about it, to use this metaphor, just about "maintenance?"

I also think this kind of "intentionality" or "discipleship" -- while certainly a call for every age -- is particularly necessary in ours, with the insidious onslaught of secularism. In India, I see this in the urban areas, among my own friends, those who feel that their faith is only holding them back, or who see it as irrelevant or against progress and modernity, who don't get why the Sacraments are such a big deal. I've got these various thoughts about what I'm calling "ethnic" Catholicism/Christianity (which functions socially much as an ethnicity does -- lots of strengths, but some serious weaknesses, the biggest being difficulty in critiquing the surrounding culture, and, in response to secularism, a loss of nerve or self-confidence, and with it, an inability to transmit the faith meaningfully to the next generation.), and I see these as connecting back to a lack of "intentionality" or perhaps a sense of personal commitment to Christ.

Finally, I completely symphathize with Fr. Tucker: why get your child baptized if it doesn't mean anything? Yes, canon law describes the faithful as having "rights" to the sacraments. But not without responsibility? But then, do we really want to have parishes that administer the sacraments strictly?

Lots of stray thoughts which I may connect, God willing, at some point, a little more coherently.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pentecostals who dress like Romans

I got this image from the comments in Fr. Longenecker's blog. It's not a bunch of African bishops with Pope John Paul, apparently, but a bunch of these African American Pentecostals who were in Rome for a visit!]

Well, Fr. Longenecker posts some photos of Pentecostals who adopt Roman vestments on his blog. This reminded me of an anecdote I was going to share a while back, but never got around to. (I do have Fr. Paul's permission to share this bit of dinner conversation from last Fall.)

"Once we had this gathering of African-American Pentecostal Bishops at Santa Susanna" (the Paulist parish in Rome) ... so began an interesting conversation at dinner last night, with Fr. Paul Robichaud, former rector of S. Susanna. "Yeah, imagine all these African American men ... and women .. .in full pontifical vesture, with cassocks, rings and pectoral crosses processing down the streets of Rome." The Italians, it seems, couldn't believe their eyes. I couldn't believe my ears. However, it turns out that some branches of African American Pentecostalism reorganized a while back, and modeled a hierarchy on the Catholic Church, with bishops as well as archbishops, vestments, mitres and what not. "They rocked the church!" said Fr. Paul of the service they held at S. Susanna. And, gave him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in pentecostal studies and made him a monsignor as well!

"You should get the cassock with the piping!" I quipped ... :-) Msgr. Burke, the founder of the National Catholic Welfare Association (which eventually became the NCCB and then the USCCB), and the only Paulist monsignor to date, is not alone anymore it seems.

Here's the webpage of the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops

And here's a link to a 1995 NC(Reporter) article on Pentecostals who dress in Catholic style.

Evangelical: a bad word?

Wow. I just discovered this discussion that started over at Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog on Evangelical Catholicism, that moved to the Intentional Disciples blog (with a wonderful post on the Evangelical Nature of Catholicism) and to Pro Ecclesia. And along the way, there was this bizarre tangent on whether converts or cradle-Catholics were more faithful, and some rather scurrilous aspersions cast on two of the most faithful priests I know!

I went to the EC institute in Madison in 2005, and then (with a much larger delegation from SC) in 2006. The Diocesan campus ministry in SC adopted EC as a model for campus ministry in 2006, and though things have been a little difficult with a lot of transition in campus ministry leadership, I am hopeful that the "EC flame" will flicker a little higher in my home Diocese. (I think Charleston might be one of the few places where the EC model is being used, quite successfully I gather, in parish settings). They're on to something, and the Institute itself is quite a positive and faith-affirming experience. And there's nothing if a deep love for the Church that animates the whole movement. In fact, that's exactly how some folks in EC describe themselves -- as one of the new movements that are renewing the Church.

Anyway, this is not really a defense of EC (Tim and Sandy Kruse did that quite well at Fr. Longenecker's blog) as some thoughts on why what they do is important. And what do they do? They help bring people to Christ. They help awaken a love for Christ (and His Church!). They spread the Good News and the joy that comes from being a disciple. How? By focusing on interior conversion -- that continual conversion that we are all called to, involving daily prayer, meditation of Scripture, and an accountable community as well as the Sacramental life of the Church. (It's interesting how many times I've heard Pope Benedict talk about a personal relationship with Christ, and meditating on the Scriptures). Perhaps most importantly, they try and form leaders who are themselves evangelized, serious about the call to holiness, and who can then go and form others.

Is evangelical a bad word? Heck no. It's because of the Evangelists that we even have the Gospels. And isn't that what "Gospel" means? And aren't we here in order to evangelize?? Isn't that the Church's "deepest identity" as Pope Paul VI put it? Yes it's a word that has a bad rap -- but it's our term. It has a rich history in the long story of Christianity. It's time to reclaim it, as our recent Pontiffs have. Yes, there are serious issues with evangelical Protestants. I don't think EC shares any of these. However, they try and utilize some models that some Protestant groups have used with some success. And why not? All those years living in the South have given me a deep respect for evangelicals. And in my experience, so many of the students I worked with who actually had some deeper sense of faith, some sense of a relationship to Christ, of the Scriptures, had spent some time in HS or college with one of the evangelical parachurch outfits. Yes, these do draw people away from Catholicism too. But for some, it actually enriched their faith. (And then there's the question of whether, at the parish level in a thinly Catholic state like SC, there is any serious stuff for folks to engage with, to help their growth in Catholic parishes which are strapped by a serious priest shortage, catechesis that serves only to get the kids through the Sacramental hoops, and a siege mentality against the surrounding Protestant culture. Sorry, that's a tangent and a whole separate conversation -- but this was the subject of a recent conversation with a friend who, quite Catholic, attends a PCA bible study.)

I wish too that things don't just boil down to either/or. One should have a deep personal relationship with Christ and love Him in the Eucharist, and follow Him in His Church. One should love Scripture and doctrine (which, at some level, is simply an exposition or plumbing of God's Word). We can have it all.

There are many ways to evangelize those who have only been Sacramentalized but not quite Evangelized. EC is one model that tries to bridge that gap. In my experience, they do a wonderful job, especially with college students. May their tribe increase.

And here's a test: Use the EC pulse evaluator and ask these questions about your own parish. I wonder how most of our Catholic parishes would do?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the decline of the West

A provocative piece from Mercator Net. Maybe a bit overstated? Judge for yourself. Death stalks Hogwarts.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is scheduled for release July 21. And barring possible plot surprises, heroic Harry is doomed to die in this seventh and last book of J.K. Rowling’s hugely popular teen sorcerer series. He will follow wise and self-sacrificing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry headmaster Albus Dumbledore and a half-dozen fellow students into some vague though presumably comfortable afterlife, apparently as a disembodied spirit.

Given that the Potter books now rank second only to the Bible in their popularity, what are we to make of Harry’s pending death?

Boasting solid five-star Amazon ratings and over 300 million sales, Potter is a clear symptom of Western civilisation's slow slide back into naturalistic mythic paganism. Despite our electronic heart monitors and computerised intravenous drips, modern technological optimism is finally colliding with the unavoidable reality of death. In a banal mockery of Nietzsche’s "Eternal Recurrence," Western civilisation is reverting to an epoch of tragedy, a worldview that virtually defined the Ancient Greeks and Romans -- and which they then rejected some 1,500 years ago, voting with their feet in favour of the Christian comedy.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mass at Our Savior

Amy was kind enough to post a bleg, asking her readers which church they'd recommend for Mass in NYC. The most props were for the Church of Our Savior (and as many for its pastor, the Rev. George Rutler). So, I hopped onto the F train, and ended up on the East Side at 38th and Park.

It's a beautiful church (nope, didn't have the camera with me), very baroque, but a more than Byzantine touch with the vast mural of the Pantokrator behind the altar, and the icons of saints and archangels to the left and right of the chancel. The Mass was prayed reverently and beautifully. An entrance hymn followed by the Introit in Latin. the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo chanted (in Latin. Well, not the Kyrie of course), the Gradual (psalm) as well, and the Communion antiphon too, if I recall. The church was not packed, but certainly pretty full with a diverse congregation of various ages and races.

I can also see why so many are fans of Fr. Ruttler -- the preaching was outstanding and erudite, yet not inaccessible.

Somewhat unusually, during the Liturgy of the Word at, the celebrant was either sitting in the chair, or, when at the altar, he stood ad orientem. It was a bit startling at first, but you know, it's not bad at all. It really does focus one away from the priest! The Eucharistic Prayer, however, was prayed versus populum (I'd have expected the reverse. But it wasn't a huge deal). The one thing that I really did miss (I never get why "traditional liturgy" = "not acknowledging one's neighbor in the pew" and it translates, perhaps unfairly as simply, "being frigid") was the Sign of Peace. I love that part of the Mass. It's what I look forward to tremendously each week at home. And even when I travel. Especially. Now I've been in congregations where it, quite literally, stretches for 10 minutes or more. That might be excessive. But why eliminate it?

Beautiful, prayerful, uplifting. Which is why I hesitate pointing out something that seemed off. I can't really pinpoint it. I guess I'm thinking back to my experience at the Malankara liturgy a few weeks back. The congregational participation, the ferver of the singing, was truly breathtaking. Here was beautiful liturgy, almost entirely chanted, other-worldly, transcendent, uplifting, with full-throated singing by the people. This morning the singing by the congregation was, well, not that. Perhaps that's not the Western way? We've gotten so used to someone else -- the priest, a schola, a choir -- doing the heavy lifting that we can get by with muttering? Is the Latin an issue? Does "traditional liturgy" just mean the people keep quiet? I dunno. Just some stray thoughts, hardly coherent. And I'm no expert at all. (And the other question: would a Martian looking at this liturgy, and say, a folk Mass, even recognize these as being the same thing? Is this a bad thing? After all the different Rites are hugely different. Is it a good thing? What does unity in worship mean?)

Of course, most importantly, Our Lord was present, body and blood, soul and divinity. That wondrous miracle that really ought to bowl us over, as we, like Peter, collapse to our knees and stammer out, "Lord, depart from me, a sinful man."

And quite by chance ...

I got to spend a couple of hours yesterday with my best friend from college, Kem (whom I visited in China back in 2005), who happened to be flying from Houston to Bombay via New York. He (and a coworker) got in on a Continental flight into LaGuardia and had an Emirates flight to Dubai (and on to Bombay) to catch at JFK some two hours later. Yours truly offered to provide taxicab service. We even caught a couple of drinks at a bar at JFK.

Kem and I have done this random-meeting-up before. A couple of times in NYC in the late 90s (I recall driving him around lower Manhattan at night. It was the last time I saw the Twin Towers in person). A few years ago, I was flying back from Oakland to Carolina via Atlanta. The flight was delayed because some minor backup system wasn't working, and the captain decided to go ahead with the flight and stop off in Salt Lake City (a major Delta hub) to get whatever it was that was malfunctioning. While we were on the ground in SLC, Kem calls me up to say he happened to be in the US for a couple of days but hadn't been able to call. He'd be passing through Atlanta later in the day. Just about the time that I was going to end up reaching Atlanta .. so, sure enough, we met up at some random concourse at Hartsfield airport!

[The pic above is apropos nothing. It's a photo of the Manhattan skyline taken soon after take off on a flight from LGA back to Carolina in 2004.]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Pope on his way to pray at the tomb of St. Augustine

Today, he stopped at the Italian city of Vigevano, in the only Italian diocese not visited by his predecessor. The last Pope to come by here was Martin V in 1418, so I guess there was much joy.

In the news section on I could find no mention of this, but MSNBC carries a Reuters report on the reaction of local Muslims to the Papal visit, which occurs in the aftermath of an ugly incident where a convert to Christianity from Islam was beaten up (presumably by his former co-religionists)
In a letter given to the city’s bishop for the pope, the Muslim community told him they were committed to “a common path of understanding and reciprocal respect.”

“We too participate in the joy and feasting of those who see in you an important and strong guide for their personal, social and religious lives,” the letter said.
The focus of his talk was on the importance of the family. According to this report, the crowd kept interrupting him with chants and applause, and he soldiered on in his speech. Except at one point.
Solo quando i fedeli lo interrompono con applausi nel passaggio dedicato alla famiglia - "solo lavorando in favore delle famiglie si può rinnovare il tessuto della comunità ecclesiale e della stessa società civile", dice - si ferma e aggiunge: "Vedo che siamo d'accordo".

Only when the faithful interrupted him in the passage dedicated to the family - "only working in favor of families can one renew thefabric of the ecclesial community and civil society itself" - he stops and adds: "I see that we're in agreement."
And, the local children write to Pope Benedict with their questions. (My translation)
Federica writes to "Mister Pope" to ask "peace in the world and an end to wars." Omar wants the same but assures him, "If you can't do that, it's enough that you come here." ... "Dear Papa, sorry for bothering you, but is it demanding to be Pope? Do you trust your cardinals?" asks Emmanuele. "Do you never have moments of discomfort?" Lucas asks him. ... If Simona wants to know if the Pope can see his guardian angel, Alessia wants to know who he confesses to when he sins.

There's room for contemporary problems as well, with Alberto asking for a special benediction for his father, "because he has married twice," and Marcho, who confides that "my parents are separated. Please pray that they come back together." ... And Juline, "How much love does one require to be Pope? Does God love even those people who live together without being married? I think so, do you?" ... Jon however wants to know whether Benedict XVI is happy with him, an Orthodox, who nonetheless attends religious intruction.

..."We want to ask Benedict XVI if it is not possible to renew the church giving her a less opulent image. We understand that all the splendor serves to honor Jesus, giving his imagie the richness that he was not able to have in his life" ... "but the emotions that have stirred up within us after seeing the scenes filmed in Korogocho by Padre Alex Zanotelli, those thousands upon thousands of people "sardinalized" [squashed together like sardines] in their shacks, has made us ashamed of all that we have."
Some thoughtful teens, in that last question. (Though I've never heard that exact explanation for the earthly splendor of the Church!) No word on what the Holy Father's response was.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

Today is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church. This is from the Office of Readings for his feast. It's powerful. And, when I prayed it this morning, it was clear that the Spirit was speaking these words to me. (Imagine that! :)).

From the Proslogion by Saint Anselm, bishop
My soul, have you found what you are looking for? You were looking for God, and you have discovered that he is the supreme being, and that you could not possibly imagine anything more perfect. You have discovered that this supreme being is life itself, light, wisdom, goodness, eternal blessedness and blessed eternity. He is everywhere, and he is timeless.

Lord my God, you gave me life and restored it when I lost it. Tell my soul that so longs for you what else you are besides what it has already understood, so that it may see you more clearly. It stands on tiptoe to see more, but apart from what it has seen already, it sees nothing but darkness. Of course it does not really see darkness, because there is no darkness in you, but it sees that it can see no further because of the darkness in itself.

Surely, Lord, inaccessible light is your dwelling place, for no one apart from yourself can enter into it and fully comprehend you. If I fail to see this light it is simply because it is too bright for me. Still, it is by this light that I do see all that I can, even as weak eyes, unable to look straight at the sun, see all that they can by the sun's light.

The light in which you dwell, Lord, is beyond my understanding. It is so brilliant that I cannot bear it, I cannot turn my mind's eye toward it for any length of time. I am dazzled by its brightness, amazed by its grandeur, overwhelmed by its immensity, bewildered by its abundance.

O supreme and inaccessible light, O complete and blessed truth, how far you are from me, even though I am so near to you! How remote you are from my sight, even though I am present to yours! You are everywhere in your entirety, and yet I do not see you; in you I move and have my being, and yet I cannot approach you; you are within me and around me, and yet I do not perceive you.

O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plentitude. While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fullfilment of my hope.

O Lord, through your Son you command us, no you counsel us to ask, and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete. Lord, I am making the request that you urge us to make through your Wonder-Counselor. Give me then what you promise to give through your Truth. You, O God, are faithful; grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete.

Meanwhile, let this hope of mine be in my thoughts and on my tongue; let my heart be filled with it, my voice speak of it; let my soul hunger for it, my body thirst for it, my whole being yearn for it, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, who is Three in One, blessed for ever. Amen.
[And isn't that oft-quoted definition of theology -- fides querens intellectum, faith seeking understanding -- traced back to St. Anselm? Credo ut intelligam. I believe in order that I may understand.]

Interview with Cardinal Pouplard

Cardinal Poupard is the president of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and Culture. This interview is a retrospective on the second anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, from Inside the Vatican. The goals of this papacy:
Benedict XVI intends to return to the basics, to interiorization, to the essence of the Christian life, the relation to Jesus. This direction featured strongly in his first Exhortation following the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis.

On his election Benedict XVI indicated the proclamation of the Word of God and the Church’s missionary vocation as primary concerns to which every single believer and the communion of believers as disciples of Christ must bear witness.

The Pope also desires to see the application of the Second Vatican Council in all sectors of the Church’s life, including the liturgy, the promotion of the unity of Christians, and in intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
A decent analysis of the Regensburg flap as well. Not really too convincing on the reform of the Curia. Read it!

Slow down while driving through Podunk

From the latest Atlantic Monthly (no idea if this is available to non-subscribers or not) -- The Out-of-Towners.
Savvy tourists don’t need a regression analysis to know that they should ease off the gas when they come to a Podunk town, but two George Mason University professors now have the proof. By examining 29,752 speeding citations issued in April and May 2001 in Massachusetts, they found that who and where you are matters as much as how fast you’re going. An out-of-town driver stopped by a police officer in any given area has a 51 percent chance of getting slapped with a fine, versus 30 percent for a local, and the average fine for an out-of-towner is $5 higher. Local police are 10 percent more likely to fine out-of-town drivers and 20 percent more likely to fine out-of-staters, while state troopers ticket out-of-state drivers at a rate 28 percent higher than in-staters. The poorer the town (in terms of property-tax receipts), the more likely its cops are to target drivers passing through; fines also increase the farther away drivers live, since distance makes them less likely to contest the ticket. The study also found that women are more likely to get off with a warning, though the gender advantage disappears around age 75.
Or, just speed up and help Hicksville pay its cops' salaries :)

The Cardinal meets the Prime Minister

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo meets Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
The 67-year-old cardinal asked the prime minister to set up a committee to study the socioeconomic profile of the Christian community in India in the light of a recent report which said that Christians were the most unemployed.

The cardinal also drew attention to the distress of farmers across the country, where grinding poverty has led to suicides.

Pointing out the ongoing atrocities directed at Christians in different states and the enactment of the so-called Freedom of Religion Bills banning conversions, Cardinal Toppo told Singh that such laws were against universal human rights and the freedom of conscience.

Cardinal Toppo also discussed issues of migration, equal rights and the need for an adoption law.
I'm surprised that the issue of reservations (ie a place in the complicated Constitutionally mandated quota system in employment for members of [until now only Hindu and Buddhist] lower castes) for Dalit Christians wasn't on the list. Whether this meeting does any good is a separate matter. Dr. Singh is a decent fellow, but he's rather limited in what he can do. The real power lies with the President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi. And, frankly, concern for Christians is not really an issue for India's politicians, since they're not numericallystrong enough to be serious "vote banks" on the national stage and thus, are quite irrelevant to what is the real interest of politicians: to get re-elected and maintain the power, privilege, status, patronage and the ability to milk the state dry that comes with elected office.

The joys of Jamaica

Jamaica, Queens in New York i.e. Not the island nation in the Caribbean (which, I'm sure, has its own joys). Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the country, and this end of it is no exception. There's tons of Mexicans and Guyanese and Bangladeshis and Indians. I've often remarked how New York doesn't feel like a part of the US -- there's a different dynamic that rises from such a concentrated diversity of cultures and peoples that mingle and interact and live together. Brown is everywhere. I love it.

So, I saunter over to this Bangladeshi joint which offers the most delicious fare, and end up having a long conversation with the proprietor about World Cup Cricket. (I'm here on every visit and by now he recognizes me.) He wasn't happy that I stopped following the tournament after India dropped out. "Man, you're not really a fan then! You shouldn't follow it racially! See, I'll root for Bangladesh when they play, then India, and then Pakistan. But I'll follow it all the way!" As the Super 8 series of matches continues, he's rooting for New Zealand over Australia. ("They are too good. I prefer the underdog") I admitted that I wasn't as much of a fan of cricket as I am of college football, and my being in India as the World Cup started out fanned the flames of nationalism. And, really, I could never bring myself to root for Pakistan. And yes, he did bring up that dark day when Bangladesh trounced India, and, effectively, shattered our World Cup dreams. I reacted with admirable magnanimity of course, as I picked up the steaming dal, naan and spicy chicken korma.

And the stuff I allued to below, is absent here. With this beard, I look more Sikh than anything. A kata Sardar (an un-turbaned Sikh, who cuts his hair). And in this part of Queens, that's quite ok.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Xenophobia in Montréal

Friend, blog-reader and commenter, Mac (Assiniboine) sent along a link to this post on the blog of a friend of his, a Palestinian resident in Montréal. Xeno-Cappuccino Grande Grande. An anecdote dripping with racism and xenophobia and some humor.
That was when I noticed that the topic of conversation at the nearby table shifted to: yours truly.

I brought the paper closer to my face and attempted to look absorbed while closely following what they were saying. I discerned from the way they were dressed and their accents that they were middle class, probably white-collar or civil servants. Two were making sarcastic references to “reasonable accommodations” (of minorities) the hot topic in Quebec nowadays. One of them refused to go along and insisted on changing the subject (so as not to offend me). I shall call him the Tsadik (righteous one) for the rest of my story.

After a brief and awkward pause, the outspoken head-baboon screeched that since he lived in a free country, he was entitled to say what was on his mind. He then defiantly added that “if certain people didn’t like it, they could go back to where they came from”. I slowly looked around to see if there was another source of stimulus that brought about his bizarre outburst. Given that there wasn’t a veiled Muslim or a turbaned Sikh in sight, I deduced that it was indeed the pile of papers in foreign-looking script as well as my Shaar LaMatchil that got him excited. They went on about how immigrants should be shipped back. One offered to pay for such an endeavor, another said that they should seize our assets and split them among the Pure-Laine Québécois, since we (immigrants) were living off their generous tax dollars. The Tsadik remained unamused and refused to engage in the conversation.
(It turns out the strange looking script was Hebrew. "How ironic would it have been: A Palestinian victim of anti-Semitism.") Truth be told, barring one bizarre exception (in Chicago of all places), I've never faced this kind of stuff, this overt, all these years living in the US. I've never had problems flying (and I fly a lot) after 9-11. I never felt I was being singled out I've never been called names. Or anything worse.

However, now that I sport a full (and quite straggly) beard, I have noticed something that is minor. It was most apparent zipping around the Metro in DC this past week: the stare is slightly longer, just by a second or so, there's the occasional side long glance. Maybe I'm imagining it. [Shrugs] The beard's here to stay. I don't miss shaving in the least. I need to go get batteries for the trimmer though -- I can't have it trimmed every week for ten rupees (~25c) like I did in India :).

Separation Anxiety

A piece in the International Herald Tribune on the relationship between church and state. Rather, the idea that the grassroots reality isn't as polarized between as "religious" and a "secular" sphere as some might suggest. It casts proponents of religion (represented by Pope Benedict XVI) and strict secularism (Jürgen Habermas) as extremeists, woefully cluless about the reality on the ground where faith-based initiatives do a variety of wonderful things that promote civil society.
Chan Jamoona of Trinidad, a trained nurse, is the founder of a Hindu Senior Center in Queens. Jamoona worked for years as a community organizer with Christians, Muslims, and Jews to combat racism and unfair housing, and, more recently, to create a senior center for a growing Hindu community. She understands her work to be "as a citizen and as a Hindu."

These are examples of how religious communities foster civil society. Religious identity propels these people to social action. They help insure that America's public sphere is religiously, culturally, and politically diverse. Each provides a community service that extends to other religions. They are not engaged in public dialogue about norms in the way that advocates for public religion and strict secularism are. And this is precisely the point. In fact, outside of the academy, seminaries, and a few dialogue groups, religious communities interact with one another and with secular partners over issues of common concern.
And all this happens, "under the noses of conservative Christians and secularists." (Presumably the adjective qualifies only the former and not the latter.) How blind all of these people concerned with principles and theory are!

Are they really? I can't speak for the "secular side" -- but read anything about dialogue, from Vatican II, to Pope John Paul and yes even Pope Benedict. Nothing that they say about principles (and really, it's quite inaccurate that Pope Benedict "calls for a reassertion of Roman Catholicism's central place in our moral compass." He's talked more about a need to recall and reinvestigate the roots of modernity, which lie in Christianity (not just Catholicism), and to bring these norms into the public sphere, especially in post-Christian Europe) suggests that the kinds of faith-based initiative the author praises are somehow dangerous or proscribed. Au contraire. All things that I'm familiar with talk about a dialogue that also involves the coming together of people of different perspectives to work for the common good, for justice and peace. So, for example:
With great respect, therefore, this council regards all the true, good and just elements inherent in the very wide variety of institutions which the human race has established for itself and constantly continues to establish. The council affirms, moreover, that the Church is willing to assist and promote all these institutions to the extent that such a service depends on her and can be associated with her mission. She has no fiercer desire than that in pursuit of the welfare of all she may be able to develop herself freely under any kind of government which grants recognition to the basic rights of person and family, to the demands of the common good and to the free exercise of her own mission. (Gaudium et Spes, #42. Vatican II)
The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all. For man's horizons are not limited only to the temporal order; while living in the context of human history, he preserves intact his eternal vocation. The Church, for her part, founded on the love of the Redeemer, contributes toward the reign of justice and charity within the borders of a nation and between nations. By preaching the truths of the Gospel, and bringing to bear on all fields of human endeavor the light of her doctrine and of a Christian witness, she respects and fosters the political freedom and responsibility of citizens. (Gaudium et Spes, #73. Vatican II)
Then there's that whole body of literature on Catholic social teaching, the immense amount of work that Catholic parishes, the USCCB and others Catholic organizations (Catholic Worker anyone?) do in the social sphere. It's a bit clueless to suggest that the Pope is completely cluless about all this!

The author (who works at the Interfaith Center in New York and is a doctoral candidate at Union Theological Seminary) seems also to think that "conservative Christians" are not involved in initiatives that work with wider areas of civic society, which is a crock really.

There's some discussion of the different trajectories that secualarism has taken in America versus Europe -- the American model is (rightly) praised. But there are serious concerns that the European model might be gaining the upper hand in America -- or at least there are concerns about these in "conservative" circles.

The guiding argument seems to be: let the "extremists" worry about such irrelevant things such as principles and boundaries and theories. If they got a clue, they'd see that on the ground such things don't matter. Well, they do matter. Tremendously But this doesn't mean that the kinds of initiatives he (rightfully) praises are somehow mutually exclusive to a serious dialogue about the proper place of religion in society, or that the latter simply involves battening down the hatches and drawing lines in the sand. In other words, he's set up a straw man that can then be easily demolished in service of another modern canard: that orthopraxis is what ultimately matters, orthodoxy is merely oppressive.

L'ultimo principe di Dio

The last Prince of God. An interesting YouTube clip, a documentary on the life of Papa Pacelli, Pope Pius XII (in Italian with English subtitles), with fantastic archival footage. About 11 minutes long, it seems to be the end of a longer piece. Have a gander.

Cartoons and PBA

The old anti-Catholicism continues (Hat tip to Amy)

Going through the various political cartoons at Slate, it's simply amazing how all the pro-choicers feel that this is a return to the dark ages. Back alleys and hangers predominate. Assault on freedom and other such apocalyptic hype. It just enforces my view that Roe should be overturned and let the matter go back to the States and the democratic process. This is betteer than the hyperbolic mess we're in now.

Here's an example of something that needs a lot more attention and support: PA's Real Alternative's program. This is from an interview at Zenit.
With a dedicated staff of 12 and nine board members, we contract with 120 service providers made up of pregnancy support centers, social service agencies like Catholic Charities, adoption agencies and maternity homes throughout the state to reach out to women in unplanned or crisis pregnancies.

The concept of government-funded social services is not new.

Well over 30 years ago, the state saw nonprofit charitable agencies that served women who were in a unique crisis either due to domestic violence or rape, and decided to fund them so they would provide more service and reach more women.

With PAASP, the state saw nonprofit charitable agencies serving women who uniquely experience another type of crisis -- an unplanned pregnancy. By funding these nonprofit charities, the centers would be able to have the necessary resources to reach more women.

That is exactly what has happened. In fiscal year 1996, we served 6,715 women statewide with 72 centers. In fiscal year 2005, we served 16,600 women with 120 centers. With the necessary financial resources, centers opened more sites and hired more counselors and continue to serve more women in need. To date, over 123,000 women have been served under the program.

Q: Does Real Alternatives have appeal for abortion-advocates as well?

Bagatta: It ought to. Once there is a crisis pregnancy, this is the only program established to help a woman in need choose life. By providing a counselor to be with the woman in need from the moment she finds out she is pregnant to 12 months after the birth of the baby, this program empowers the mother to overcome her obstacles and crisis. She is not alone. She knows someone is with her to help her.

An alternative to abortion is not a pamphlet, it is another person; it is one woman seeing another woman in crisis and loving her and supporting her like she is her own daughter. This program represents the best in America.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Praise God!

Was on the road traveling to New York today. Saw this headline on the metro in Washington in the morning and am finally catching up on the news. Total Victory on Partial-Birth Abortion | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction Do read the wise accompanying editorial at CT as well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A face from the tragedy

One of those killed was Prof. G.V. Loganathan, a native of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, who had lived in the US for nearly the past three decades.

Here are various stories from the Indian media.

IITians lose one of their brightest. (Referring to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology)
Prof's funeral will take place in the US.
Loganathan spoke to his family on Sunday.
Government assures all help to slain professor's family.

Another victim was also of Indian orgin.
Indian student killed at Virginia Tech. (One of the missing students, has been confirmed among the dead.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The VT Tragedy and Facebook

[I'm giving the update below its own post.]

Facebook is buzzing with all kinds of stuff related to the VT tragedy. One of the groups, "A tribute to those who passed at the Virginia Tech Shooting" has added nearly 200,000 people, from around the world, in just over a day. This is a record for Facebook, and despite some technical difficulties, they've kept it going. There are links to Youtube videos of the vigil, and so on. (In the 15 minutes since I first surfed to the page, some 2000 joined the group.)

Online Memorial, including brief profiles of those killed (including one, maybe two, of Indian origin.)

More disturbingly, it seems that nutjob Fred Phelps, is planning a protest at the students' funerals! I'm all for free speech, but aren't there limits?

We're all Hokies now

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Telegram from the Holy Father:


VT's page with updates.

CNS story.

The aftermath: Godbless VT blog with updates on missing people.

:: UPDATE :: Facebook is buzzing with all kinds of stuff related to the VT tragedy. One of the groups, "A tribute to those who passed at the Virginia Tech Shooting" has added nearly 200,000 people, from around the world, in just over a day. This is a record for Facebook, and despite some technical difficulties, they've kept it going. There are links to Youtube videos of the vigil, and so on. (In the 15 minutes since I first surfed to the page, some 2000 joined the group.)

Online Memorial, including brief profiles of those killed.

More disturbingly, it seems that nutjob Fred Phelps, is planning a protest at the students' funerals! I'm all for free speech, but aren't there limits?

Monday, April 16, 2007

On the road again ...

The next couple of weeks:

Today: drive to Washington, meet up with friends and folks at the seminary.
Thursday: take the Chinatown Express to New York, hang out with R
Friday, April 27: fly to SF, meeting up with Coray from LA.

Blogging: Light. Watch me produce 15 posts tonight. :)

Tanti auguri Papa Bene!

Great round up at Amy's, including links fisking the MSM coverage of the story. And this nugget: his new book, not yet out in the US, is #27 at Amazon US, and #1 already in Germany.

Che viva il Papa!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Humility and conviction in the messiness of the real world: Christian witness in Pakistan

Christianity Today has this remarkable piece by a fellow of the Institute for Global Engagement (a non-profit that works to promote religious freedom), an evangelical Christian, who spent ten-months living in the North West Frontier Province of Paksistan (and rather close to the Waziristan, the new Talibanistan, and effectively beyond the control of the Pakistan state). He writes quite beautifully and powerfully about his experiences there -- doing dua at the funeral of the chief minister (if I read correctly) of the NWFP
When honoring the dead, a silent du'a is said. And it is said communally, such that when I sat down next to the chief minister, raised my hands, and softly said du'a kare, "let us do prayer," the whole tent in an instant responded by raising their hands with me in a wave of joint supplication—the politicians, the family, the elders with their canes—and praying in absolute silence for the soul of the departed. The moment of silence lingered, all eyes on us, until, in the traditional style, I passed my hands over my face and closed with a quiet Ameen.
or this Easter procession he participated in
At three o'clock in the morning, my friend drove me to the heart of the Old City. There we joined what was an extraordinary scene—hundreds of Christians marching through dark, narrow streets, with candles lit, in a line that stretched for an entire block. At the front of the line were Anglicans and Catholics, marching in their vestments. After them came—what else?—a decorated Suzuki minibus, with a pa system mounted on top and an eager young preacher in the passenger seat belting out sermons in Urdu, then Pashto, then Punjabi. Behind the minibus came a tightly packed crowd of dancing Pentecostals, who, much to the relief of the nervous Anglicans, somehow managed to keep moving along with the crowd. And all around this scene—around the flickering lights and the children singing hymns and the minibus creeping through the dark streets in the wee hours of Easter morning—were policemen.

It was my first Easter celebrated within a police cordon.

What dissonance to be saying "Jesus is risen!" in the still-dark streets of an ancient Muslim city while surrounded by men with batons and Kalashnikovs. Part of me felt a measure of awe that a state—an Islamic republic, no less—would go to such lengths to protect a declaration that has no standing in its received revelation. Another part of me felt a despairing sadness that police were necessary and that Easter needed to be managed as a security event. Amid all this, in spite of the dissonance of it all, I kept coming back to a lingering sense that this experience must be truer to that of the early Christians than the grand, note-perfect pageants I had come to know as "Easter Sunday."
Unsurprisingly, like so many religiously/spiritually inclined Westerners, he finds something appealing about the religiosity of places like South Asia (he ascribes this just to Islam, but it's as evident across the border in multi-religious India):
Second, in spite of feeling far from home, time and time again I found that I felt surprisingly comfortable in Pakistan, precisely because it was a deeply religious society. Despite the points of shared history and shared values, at the end of the day, I believe something quite different than the Muslims I met and lived with and prayed among. But I still came away admiring their devotion and appreciating a society in which religious conversation and values are honored.
[There's a huge tension here, a whole separate conversation about whether this kind of religiosity is inextricably tied up with things such as domestic violence against women, religiously inspired violence against minorities, etc. But yes, it is immensely appealing, and, I too, the child of the secularized, Westernized, English-speaking urban Indian elite, approach somewhat as an outsider.] He has some suggestions for Western Christians
In light of my experience with the suffering church in Pakistan, I feel more deeply the truth that has been reiterated many times in these pages: that the church in the West needs to redefine success and "suffer with those who suffer"—with Christian brothers and sisters, but also with the whole range of religious communities worldwide who feel overshadowed, beleaguered, and forgotten.
and for dialogue
I have come to think that this kind of interpretive witness is one calling of a true global citizen, and certainly of a Christian who takes seriously the way of Jesus. It is a witness that doesn't ignore the realities of politics and the brutalities of modern terrorism, but responds with something more than power and pragmatism. It is a witness that looks for ways to engage those who have divergent visions of faith and society and advocates for fundamental religious freedoms. More than anything, it is a witness that stitches together humility and conviction in the messiness of the real world—and does so in a way that points quietly, but inevitably, to the faith we profess.
One can argue continually about the specifics that last paragraph calls for, but, I whole heartedly concur: humble witness to the One we profess to follow, the crucified one whom death could not bind.

[And I hope any Pakistanis who stumble upon this would forgive me for tagging this post "India." This isn't because of any VHP inspired akhand Bharat fantasies, or because I wish to deny our brothers and sisters across the border their national identity. It's just convenience. I've created a separate Pakistan label as well.]

And I thought India's IT department was bad ...

Obviously, they're in competition with the IRS. Via Don Jim, we have this wonderful story in USA Today: four different tax preparers prepare four completely different tax returns for a fictitious family.

Matchmaker matchmaker make me a match ...

Der Spiegel's international edition profiles online matrimonial sites in India, with brick and mortar offices.
Matchmaking is an important niche, worth some $250-300 million each year. And even if only about 5 percent of the country's 1.1 billion citizens surf the Web, an ever increasing number of Indian love stories are beginning in cyberspace. Companies like are taking notice -- but they are also looking to capitalize on Internet efficiency in the low-tech world as well.

Chawla's franchise-- essentially an interface between cyberspace and traditional India -- is one of 130 dotting the country and there are plans to add another 400 in the next two years. Furthermore, while online users can buy access to some 400,000 profiles in the company's secured database, ads are also published in newspapers and magazines. Indeed, most customers, Chawla says, have never used a computer -- at least 90 percent of those who walk through her door are parents, sibling or aunts or uncles, of the young singles.
Her success is also an indication of India's eclectic mix of technology and tradition. Walking into the Shaadi Point late one afternoon Rajni Jaiswal, 26, takes a seat along her father and an aunt in Chawla's enclosure. Doe-eyed with jet black hair, Rajni is the picture of India's next generation. She relaxes in jeans and a black hoodie, while her aunt sits stoically in an orange sari and black sweater, clutching a red purse. Most of Rajni's friends have gotten married in the past year or two -- the pressure is now on for her to follow suit.

"It's good," says Rajni. "She is able to understand what kind of match I'm looking for." That is, a fellow a few years older, employed, and located outside her hometown.

A few keystrokes later Chawla pulls up hundreds of choices. Rajni picks one and after telling Chawla her date and time of birth, everyone watches with bated breath as a horoscope-matching program tells them whether it is a match made in heaven. Much to the family's delight, the computer says yes.
Let's see, of my college friends (all middle, or upper-middle class urban Bombayites), almost all the Catholics had "love marriages" (two across religious lines, Catholics marrying Hindus) and many of the Hindus and Muslims had "arranged marriages." The former are more common, and certainly more accepted, among the more Westernized educated classes, but not always. One of my college aquaintances was locked up by her parents in her room when she refused a match. She escaped through the window and ran away to Delhi and didn't come back until her folks saw reason. This was a very well-off and educated family! When another close friend, a Mangalorean Catholic, wanted to marry a Keralite Catholic girl, her family resorted to similar measures. They were afraid of what this would do to the family reputation in the village and so on. But, eventually, they bowed to their daughter's wishes. (And from rural India, one constantly hears stories about young lovers who elope, are caught by their familes, and then butchered to protect the caste's honor.) All are still married, to their original spouses. (The same can't be said about friends and aquaintances my age in the US!)

In my family, I'd say the split is about 50-50 among the cousins in India (none of the cousins born and brought up in the US has had an arranged marriage. All but one, so far, have married other Indians). And several of the cousins' kids, now of marriageable age, are having their marriages arranged. In fact, just last month, two rishtas (matches) were confirmed (involving a ceremony where both sides meet and swap a rupee and a coconut. No idea which sides brings what. The side with the coconut gets stiffed through -- it costs more than a ruppe for sure. :)) in the extended clan. I don't think was used though ... just the informal, yet quite widespread network of aunts, who are the Repository of All Collective Wisdom.

Vatican's Nuncio in Israel threatens to boycott Yad Vashem commemoration

Concerns over the proper interpretation of the role of Pope Pius XII during the war, especially as reflected on the caption of one photograph. From Asia News
No one is calling for history to be changed, but for a change in the interpretation of history, this yes, especially when recent studies show that such a change is called for. This is how Archbishop Antonio Franco, Nuncio in Israel, responds, in talking with AsiaNews, to the controversy created by the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The institute publicly announced the Nuncio’s decision to not take part in the annual commemoration of the Shoah in the case that his request is not met for reconsideration of the use of a photo portraying Pius XII – first displayed by the Museum in 2005 – which carries a caption that the Nuncio judges to be “offensive” and disrespectful of the truth, in that it speaks of a dubious reaction on Pope Pacelli’s part to the killing of Jews during the Holocaust.
News of Archbishop Franco’s decision was given today by Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, in its Y-net on-line edition. The newspaper reports on a statement by the Museum, according to which “The Yad Vashem is dedicated to historical research, and the Holocaust Museum presents the historical truth on Pope Pius XII as is known to scholars today”, as well as statements by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who say, “This is a very sensitive matter which needs to be examined in depth. It is important to us that all diplomatic delegates attend the memorial ceremony,” and “his absence will definitely stand out."
“My letter,” the Nuncio stresses, “was written to draw attention to a problem that for me must be reconsidered and further analyzed and this judgement on Pius XII must be changed. Otherwise, I will never go to the Yad Vashem. That is what I said. I have my responsibility as a person, a Christian, and representative of the Pope. It is difficult for me, as papal representative, to read this judgement that is not historical and is not true.”
Here's the story from the International Herald Tribune. It's a shame this has to become a minor international incident, but I am sympathetic to the Nuncio's stance here. Maybe there's a larger context as well, given the intransigence of the Israeli authorities on questions of issuance of visas to Catholic ministers, and taxation of church property and so on?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Benedict's book on Jesus about to be released

From Fides news
On Friday 13 April at 4pm in the Synod Hall above the Paul VI Audience Hall, there will be the presentation of a new Book written by Pope Benedict XVI with the title Jesus of Nazareth. The book, on sale in Rome on Monday 16 April, has been printed in three languages Italian, (published by Rizzoli), German (published by Herder) and Polish, (published by Wydawnictwo M). Speakers at the presentation will include: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn Archbishop of Vienna; Prof. Daniele Garrone, dean of the Valdese Faculty of Theology in Rome; Massimo Cacciari Prof. of Ordinary Ethics at San Raffaele Vita-Salute University (Milan). Coordinator Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office.
(S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 4/4/2007; righe 8; parole 104)
I wonder when the English edition will be out?

Back in January, Sandro Magister had published the complete prefaceof the upcoming volume. The problem:
Beginning in the 1950’s, the situation changed. The rift between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” became wider and wider; the one pulled away from the other before one’s very eyes. But what meaning can there be in faith in Jesus Christ, in Jesus the Son the of living God, if the man Jesus is so different from how the evangelists present Him, and from how the Church proclaims Him on the basis of the Gospels?

Progress in historical-critical research led to increasingly subtle distinctions among the different levels of tradition. Behind these layers, the figure of Jesus, upon whom faith rests, became increasingly more uncertain, and took on increasingly less definite outlines.

At the same time, the reconstructions of this Jesus, who had to be sought behind the traditions of the Evangelists and their sources, became increasingly contradictory: from the revolutionary enemy of the Romans who opposed the established power and naturally failed, to the meek moralist who permitted everything and inexplicably ended up causing his own ruin.

Those who read a certain number of these reconstructions one after another will immediately notice that these are much more the snapshots of the authors and their ideals than they are the unveiling of an icon that has become confused. In the meantime, distrust has grown toward these images of Jesus, and in any case the figure of Jesus has withdrawn from us even more.

All of these attempts have, in any case, left behind themselves as their common denominator the impression that we know very little for sure about Jesus, and that it was only later that faith in His divinity shaped His image. This impression, in the meantime, has deeply penetrated the general consciousness of Christianity.

Such a situation is dramatic for the faith because it renders uncertain its authentic point of reference: intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, threatens to become a groping around in the void.
The Pope's way forward:
For my presentation of Jesus, this means above all that I trust the Gospels. Naturally, I take for granted what the Council and modern exegesis say about the literary genres, about the intention of various expressions, about the communitarian context of the Gospels and the fact that they speak within this living context. While accepting all this as much as possible, I wanted to make an effort to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the real Jesus, as the “historical Jesus” in the real sense of the expression.

I am convinced – and I hope that I can also make the reader aware of this – that this figure is much more logical, and from the historical point of view also more understandable, than the reconstructions we have had to confront in recent decades.

I maintain that this very Jesus – the Jesus of the Gospels – is an historically sensible and convincing figure. His crucifixion and the impact that he had can only be explained if something extraordinary happened, if the figure and the words of Jesus radically exceeded the hopes and expectations of his time.

Around twenty years after the death of Jesus, we find already in the great hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-8) the full expression of a Christology, in which it is said of Jesus that He was equal to God but stripped Himself, became man, and humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross, and that to Him is due the homage of creation, the adoration that in the prophet Isaiah (45:23) God proclaimed as due to Himself alone.

Critical research quite rightly poses this question: what happened in those twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus? How did this Christology develop?

The action of anonymous communitarian formations, whose representatives are being sought out, in reality doesn’t explain anything. How could unknown groups be so creative, how could they be convincing and impose themselves? Isn’t it more logical, even from the historical point of view, to suppose that the great impulse came at the beginning, and that the figure of Jesus burst beyond all of the available categories, and could thus be understood only by beginning from the mystery of God?

Naturally, to believe that even as a man He was God, and made this known by concealing it within parables while nevertheless making it increasingly clear, goes beyond the possibilities of the historical method. On the contrary, if one begins from this conviction of faith and reads the texts with the historical method and with its openness to what is greater, the texts open up to reveal a way and a figure that are worthy of faith.

What then becomes clear is the multilevel struggle present in the writings of the New Testament over the figure of Jesus, and despite all the differences, the profound agreement of these writings.

It is clear that with this view of the figure of Jesus I go beyond what Schnackenburg, for example, says in representation of a good portion of contemporary exegesis.

I hope, however, that the reader understands that this book was not written against modern exegesis, but with great recognition of all this has given and continues to give to us. It has made us familiar with a great quantity of sources and conceptions through which the figure of Jesus can become present to us with a liveliness and depth that we couldn’t even imagine just a few decades ago.

I have sought only to go beyond mere historical-critical interpretation, applying the new methodological criteria that allow us to make a properly theological interpretation of the Bible that naturally requires faith, without thereby wanting or being able in any way to renounce historical seriousness.
(Emphases added) Oh boy, I cannot wait!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Confused alarms of struggle and flight

Just about a year go I found out that my father had late stage lung cancer. They had just heard the diagnosis themselves on April 8. I called on the evening of April 8 (the morning of April 9 in India), and Papa sounded strange, as if he had just woken up from sleep. He very hastily handed the phone to my mother, who said, "oh, he's just woken up." It was around 8:30 am in India, and I thought it strange. They're both normally up by 7:00 or so. [Later he told me that he just couldn't bear to talk to me that morning.]

In the morning, after I got out of Mass (it was Palm Sunday last year on April 9), I noticed six missed calls from my brother on my cell phone and my heart sank. I remember walking across campus for lunch, not being able to dial his number back. And just sitting in the office and crying and crying, after my fingers finally cooperated, and I had heard the news.

What a strange creature grief is. It comes out of nowhere, like a beast of prey, attacking swiftfly, going for the jugular, leaving one helpless and gasping, with a knife twisting in the stomach, a lump in the throat, and a heart made of lead.

I know it's Easter. "Christ has conquered, glory fills you, darkness vanishes forever," the Exsultet proclaims in amazement. I read the Holy Father's words below with joy, and draw strength from them, from so many other sources. Yet it is so obvious how imperfect a world we live in, and how much we don't want to belong to Christ, but just to ourselves and our hapless wills and divided hearts.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(From Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach.")
April 9 is also Papa's birthday. He would have been 77. Last May, sitting in the oncologist's office, he told my mother and brother that he had celebrated his last birthday.

He was right.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our life now belongs to Christ, no longer to ourselves

From the homily of the Holy Father at the Easter Vigil
These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ -- he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labor fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart -- by being executed -- and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ -- there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Psalm 138[139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go -- he who is Life itself.
But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal -- what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God's memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you." Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.
From the Dominican studentate at Blackfriars, here's a slightly different rendition of the Exsultet.

Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Alleluia, alleluia!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.

[Coptic icon of the burial of Christ]

The Lord's descent into the underworld
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
[From today's Office of Readings. An anonymous ancient homily.]

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week blog fast

I've decided to take a break from blogging for Holy Week. (I might break that for any major travel updates ...)

Have a blessed holy week! Here's some words for reflection, from the homily of Holy Father yesterday, on Palm Sunday.
The exhortation at the beginning of today's liturgy therefore rightly interprets the procession also as a symbolic representation of that which we call "the following of Christ": "Let us ask for the grace to follow him," we said. The expression "the following of Christ" is a description of the whole Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does "the following of Christ" mean concretely?

At the beginning, with the first disciples, the meaning was very simple and immediate: It meant that these persons had decided to leave their profession, their affairs, their whole life, to go with Jesus. It meant a new profession: that of disciple. The basic content of this profession was to go with the master, to entrust oneself entirely to his guidance. Thus the following was an external thing and at the same time something very internal.

The external aspect was walking behind Jesus in his travels through Palestine; the internal aspect was the new existential orientation, which no longer had its points of reference in matters, in the career that determined one's life previously, in one's personal will; instead one surrendered oneself totally to the will of an Other. Being at his service had by now become the reason for living. The renunciation that this demanded from what one once possessed, the detachment from self, we can see in a very clear way in certain scenes of the Gospel.

But with that, it is also evident what the following means and what its true essence is for us: It has to do with an interior change of life. It demands that I no longer be closed in considering my self-realization as the principal purpose of my life. It demands that I give myself freely to an Other -- for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, precedes me and points out the way.

What we are talking about here is the fundamental decision to no longer consider utility and gain, career and success as the ultimate goal of life, but to recognize truth and love instead as the authentic criteria. We are talking about the choice between living for myself and giving myself -- for what is greater. And let us understand that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a person. Following him, I enter into the service of truth and love. Losing myself, I find myself.
With the cross, Jesus opens wide the door of God, the door between God and men. Now it is open. But also from the other side the Lord knocks with his cross: He knocks at the door of the world, at the doors of our hearts, which so often and in such great numbers are closed to God. And he speaks to us more or less in this way: If the proofs that God gives of himself in creation do not succeed in opening you to him; if the word of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent -- then look at me, your Lord and your God.

It is this call that in this hour we let penetrate our hearts. May the Lord help us to open the door of our heart, the heart of the world, so that he, the living God, might, in his Son, arrive in our time and touch our lives. Amen.

Hmm -- flight issues?

Was just checking Delta's website. The flight status for tomorrow's (ie April 3rd) BOM-JFK nonstop says "Cancelled." No details provided. The flight in from JFK landed earlier (on the evening of April 2) on time, and tomorrow's DL16 from JFK-BOM is listed as being on time (this is the plane that I'll be flying back on, on April 4).

I wonder what happened? And how on earth are they going to reschedule a 777 full of passengers?

I'll call Delta in the morning. Keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer! Hope DL17 flies on April 4!

Holy Qurbana - video clips

Here's some short video clips from the Holy Qurbana services I attended. (Report below, and more photos here.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Public Stations of the Cross

After coming back to my uncle's place from the Holy Qurbana (see below), my nap was interrupted by the sound of singing coming up from the street below. Turns out it was a public Stations of the Cross! Christ carrying the cross, several dressed up as Roman soldiers and Jewish High Priests (the costumes were clearly inspired by Gibson's "Passion"), an announcer with a microphone and a loudspeaker, and a crowd of oh about 150-200 extending up the road. A couple of cop cars directed traffic around the procession as they prayed the Fourth Station right below where I was!

Looking around, on every floor, in every balcony it seemed, of the surrounding buildings (which would be 6-15 storeys tall), even in the top floor of the seemingly abandoned bhoot bangla ("haunted house") across the street, faces appeared and gawked and watched.

I have never heard of such a procession in Bombay, and certainly not outside a traditionally Catholic enclave like Bandra. Way to go!

[About thirty minutes later, a large truck passed by, jam-packed with young men, a huge Islamic green banner flying atop, and shouts of "Jai-jai takdeer, allah-ho-akbar!" rising up. No idea where they were headed. Ah Bombay!]

More pictures from the Holy Qurbana

The Holy Qurbana

Palm Sunday Service at St. George Orthodox Syrian Church (Malankara), Mulund, Bombay. The liturgy of St. James, the brother of the Lord.

[::UPDATE:: I've put up a few short clips from the service at YouTube.]

A long time coming (we've been trying to do this for nearly a year now), I finally managed to accompany a friend who is Syrian Orthodox, to his parish church in the northeastern suburb of Mulund, for the Holy Qurbana this morning. I've never participated in any Syriac liturgy in India (or anywhere else for that matter), so this was a first.

I'm not very familiar with this part of Bombay (most of my interactions were on the Western side of the city, with frequent incursions to the east, around Chembur). And though Mulund is within the municipal limits of Greater Bombay (the city officially ends just to the north, at Thane), and, like every other part of the city, is becoming even more crowded, it feels as if one is out in the country. The suburb is surrounded on three sides by large flat salt pans and swamps that extend to Thane Creek, and on one side by the ridges of the central spine of hills that runs down the northern part of Salsette Island (the northern, and by far much larger island that forms the bulk of Bombay), on which are located the three lakes that supply drinking water to the city, and also the Borivili National Park (near 100 sq. km of preserved forested land right in the middle of the city, home to some rare panthers that occasionally stray beyond the confines of the park and make off with a stray goat or dog or child).

In another important respect, Mulund is outside Bombay. It gets its power from the MSEB grid (which supplies the rest of Maharashtra), and not the privately run grids that supply the power hungry metropolis. MSEB is notoriously inefficient and has a huge power deficit. This means that for about four hours in the morning there are rolling blockouts in most parts of the state.

So, a few minutes after we pulled up to the church (taking up the first and second floors [by US reckoning] of a tall block of apartments), the power went out, and the rest of the approximately 4h45m service (yep, you read that right) was spent in a sea of perspiration. [The church does have a power generator, but this was used to light the altar. Appropriate.]

Morning prayer (which precedes all Eastern liturgies on Sunday) had just begun when we arrived, a little after 630 am. There were few worshippers present, men on one side, women, heads covered, on the other. The chancel was veiled by a bright red curtain. The most immediate thing one notices, however, is the singing. The entire service is chanted and sung, and I still have the cadences and lilts and the retroflexive liquid sounds of Malayalam ringing in my head. And the entire congregation (which swelled considerably once the actual Qurbana had begun. I'd say some 700 or so people, most outside the sanctuary, following along on TV screens) sings. Loudly and beautifully. Full-throated, powerful, rising to the heavens. The singing at Catholic congregations (Latin-rite) that I have worshipped at in India is reduced to anemic bleating by comparison.

I don't speak a lick of Malayalam (well, I can count to 29. Don't ask), and I certainly don't read it. (The Malanakara church actually encourages the congregation to bring hymnals and service books to church so as to chant the service properly) ... my friend had provided me a with useful English-Malayalam guide to the service so I could follow long. For the most part, I just listened to the sound and tried to get as prayerful as I could in the sweltering heat, smiling at the occasional Sanskrit word (Malayalam has the most Sanskritized vocabulary of the Dravidic languages) I caught. I also increased my Syriac vocabulary (it was almost nil to begin with) a lot -- the phrase "Barekmor" ("Bless me Lord") occurs almost as frequently as "Amin" -- and, of course, there were tons and tons of "Kurielayisons" all throughout, along with the sign of the cross everywhere (the Malankaras follow the Latin custom. They also use the Gregorian calendar, though this year, both lungs of the Church are celebrating Easter on the same date.)

There was a procession with Palms in the middle of the liturgy, circling the surrounding grounds. And several humorous moments when the kids (well really only the boys, who were standing right up front. The girls on the other side were much better behaved!) got a bit rowdy and had to be scolded by the priest or the deacon. (At several points in the service, to chants of "Oshanna" the congregation threw handfuls of gold and yellow marigolds up in the air. The boys, as one can imagine, got a bit carried away. I found myself wondering if I'd be thoroughly bored, but for such interludes, had I grown up with long chanted services regularly. More on that some other time.)

One stands through the bulk of the service -- sitting for the Old Testament readings (which occur, somewhat hurriedly, between Morning Prayer and the Qurbana), and for the sermon (which the priest gives from behind the veiled chancel, and which, of course, I didn't follow at all). Periodically, the priest reminds the congregation, "sthoumen kalos." Let us stand well!

The bread is, following Eastern custom, leavened, and today, the Precious Blood was poured over the Host. I'd say maybe a third of those present received. After receiving, each communicant takes a drink of water from about half a dozen plastic bottles placed on the table in the middle of the nave. According to my friend, this is to facilitate the swallowing of the leavened bread (I guess one doesn't chew?). And, given the heat and lack of functioning fans, I'm sure most took more than the symbolic needful. :)

The offering is given at the end of the service, when everyone present lines up and goes and gets an individual blessing from the priest, and drops his offering in a basket.

As with all Eastern liturgies, everything is repeated, the prayers are long and elaborate, and every gesture drips with meaning. In this rite, particularly interesting was the gestures the priest makes when invoking the Holy Spirt, waving his hands up and down over the chalice and paten. There's the bell ringing and the incense, the colors of the vestments and the altar, the layout of the church, the veiling and unveiling. Everything has biblical roots, and focuses on the central mysteries of the faith. The Mother of God is honored everywhere, as are the Fathers of the Church (one of the post-consecration intercessions, called "Thubden" or "Diptychs" honors 23 Fathers), the saints and martyrs, the faithful departed, the church universal.

If there is one thing that comes through clearly it is this: this is heavenly worship. This is the "living sacrifice" that St. Paul speaks of. One isn't creating something down here, on one's own authority or following one's own whims and fancies. One is entering into something that transcends space and time.

[I took several short video clips which will be uploaded once I have broadband access are up on YouTube. And a few more thoughts, which will be shared in due course.]