27 February, 2014

Ash wednesday 2014

Ash Wednesday Year A


LENTEN SEASON
Ash Wednesday [Mt 6:1-6.16-18]
05 March 2014
Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting with a Difference
Readings: (1) Joel 2:12-18 (2) 2 Cor 5:20-6:2
&   Theme in brief
       Right motive and attitudes for Lenten observances
&   Focus Statement
Our Lenten observances should be done for right motives that give glory to God, and not for self-glory or for attracting people’s attention and getting a merit certificate from God.
&   Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about three religious practices found in all religions namely,almsgivingprayer and fasting.  He approves these practices, but with a difference. He criticizes the manner in which they are practiced by pious Jews (mainly the Pharisees) of his time and points out their wrong motives. He attaches three prescriptions to be followed by his disciples while practicing these deeds of piety: (1) the type of behaviour they should avoid; (2) the proper motive or attitude they should observe; and (3) the type of rewardthey should look for.
He emphasizes three times the need to avoid hypocrisy and showiness while practicing each of these pious deeds (6:2,5,16). [A hypocrite is an actor in life’s drama, who pretendsto be what he/she is not in real life.] These deeds should be done to give glory to God and not to be seen and praised by others (6:1-2); that is, not for self-glory or to earn publicreputation. They are only means to achieve an end – an expression of our inner attitudesand motives. They are not to be practiced to attract people’s attention (6:1,3,6,17) or to get a merit certificate from God. Jesus’ instruction to shut the door of one’s room and pray privately or secretly (6:6) does not mean we should not pray in common or publicly. What it means is that prayer should not be done with other ulterior motives than for glorifying God and entering into a deeper communion with him. Here Jesus points out how self-centeredness can be the motive for even the best of religious practices. If they are done forpersonal glory rather than for God’s, they lose their real meaning or purpose.
While speaking about the reward for such practices, Jesus contrasts between the shortsighted earthly reward and the everlasting heavenly reward. The former is earned through recognition, admiration and reputation among the public and the latter is an eternal reward of heavenly bliss given by the Father. In human society, the one who gives alms earns the reputation of being generous, the one who prays regularly in public places of being a devout person and the one who fasts rigorously of being an ascetic. In contrast, the Father who sees everything in secret, looks into people’s hearts, and rewards them by judging the inner motives behind these deeds (6:4,618). Since those who make a public display of these deeds already receive their reward here on earth, there is no further scope for any other reward in the age to come.
&   Application to life 
Today we enter into a 40-day period of inner purification called the holy Season of Lent. For many Catholics, Lent means just giving up meat on Fridays and attending the Way of the Cross on that day. They also understand it as a period of penance for their sins and for meditating on Christ’s suffering. Though true, the primary purposes of Lent are less emphasized and less understood: (1) It is a time of preparation for Easter or the Lord’s Passover. Just as the Lord Jesus passed (crossed) over from death to eternal life at his resurrection, this is a period set apart for us to pass over from all sinful, selfish, ungodly and worldly ways to new (holy) life on Easter day by following the path of charity, ardent prayer and penance. (2) It is a time for renewal of our baptismal grace and commitment. At baptism (which was our first Easter) we crossed over from sin to a new or holy life, or in St. Paul’s metaphor ‘died’ with Christ and ‘rose’ with him. But we have soiled our baptismal purity by our sins and not “believing in the gospel” (Mk 1:15 = not living the gospel’s way of life). So this a period set apart for us to turn away from sins and come back to the Lord and to his gospel.
How? In today’s gospel text Jesus lays down three Lenten observances as aids to renew our baptismal commitment, namely, almsgiving, prayer and fasting. He gives a new meaning to these traditional practices, which is different from what many pious people of his time as well as in our own times understand. These practices are to be external expressions of genuine repentance and conversion. They are means to reach the goal of renewing our baptismal call. This renewal needs to be done by coming close to God and a determination to give up evil practices and sins. We have to examine our inner motives and dispositions and ask ourselves if these observances will lead us to a renewal of our baptismal call – the aim of Lent - and make us committed disciples.
The first Lenten observance of almsgiving must be broadly understood to include allcharitable deeds and sharing of our goods with the needy as well as solidarity with those whom we have excluded from our schemes. It is an expression of our gratitude to what God has given us out of his bounty and our responsibility to share something of that with the have-nots. The second one, namely prayer should proceed from our genuine love of God, and lead to a deeper communion with him flowing into more committed service to ourneighbours. The third one, namely fasting includes all acts of penance and abstinence. Lenten abstinence from meat, alcohol, smoking, etc., is to be practiced for spiritual benefits and not purely for health reasons like lowering one’s cholesterol or preventing cancer. Nor penance should be done for its own sake, or just for experiencing a good deal of pain by giving up something dear to us. Fasting and acts of penance need to be signs of our genuine repentance - a turning away from evil and turning back to God. When done with pure motive, they can lead us to an inner disposition for repentance and sorrows for our sins.
Let us enumerate some of the spiritual motives for fasting and abstinence:
(1) It is a means to humble ourselves before God and is an expression of mourning for our sins and wrongdoing. It is meant to make us realize the harm inflicted on ourselves and others by our own sins and to seek the path of conversion. (2) It is an aid to prayer. It is up to us to use it for reflecting on our hunger for God as we feel physical hunger. (3) It reminds us to feel the pain and agony of so many people in the world who go hungry due to theirpoverty, and the suffering of those who are seriously ill or are victims of natural calamities, or experience injustice, etc. (4) It reminds us of the need to do our bit for the alleviation of suffering and misery in the world, by spending a bit of our money/ time/ energy/ expertise for this cause. (5) It is a form of self-discipline and self-control we want to practice by giving up a pleasurable thing. When we freely choose to impose discipline on ourselves for a greater cause or a higher good without any external force, we shall look as if we are going for a feast when we actually are fasting. This could be one of the applications of Jesus’ saying: “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face” (6:17). (6) It teaches us to manage without things we are so used to, such as food, drink and modern comforts. Before motor vehicles, electricity and mobile phones came into existence people knew how to manage their affairs. Now, can we manage without electricity or mobile phone for an hour without making a fuss or becoming restless?
I came across a PowerPoint Programme prepared by Dorry advocating the following creative ways of fasting with a difference: (1) Fast from anger and hatred. Give your family an extra dose of love each day. (2) Fast from judging others. (3) Fast from discouragement and trust in God’s promises. (4) Fast from complaining. Instead close your eyes and think of the good things you are enjoying. (5) Fast from resentment or bitterness. Work on forgiving those who may have hurt you. (6) Fast from spending too much money on comforts and enjoyments. Try to reduce your spending by ten percent and give those savings to the poor.
Let me add a few more fasts to this list: (1) Fast from the desire to get glued to the mobile phone all the time and from using it for fun-calls and needless talk like, “What was the curry for dinner?” (2) Give some money for charity or a noble cause secretly and fast from your desire to get your name displayed publicly on a marble stone or mentioned in church announcements. Reflect and see whether you would have donated any money for that cause if your name were not mentioned or displayed anywhere.
For the noble cause of protecting our environment from further degradation we can do the following penance during this Lent: (1) Walking to the railway station or bus stand if it is within a km instead of going by your vehicle. (2) Saving energy and water by limiting their use. (3) Avoiding forest fires by not burning leaves around the forest area (as done by some people in my region to clear the area for collecting the forest produce). (4) …………………………………….
&   Response to God's Word
Do we do Lenten observances with above-mentioned motives? Or do we do them only to follow a custom or gain merit here and hereafter? Do we use them as means to improve our Christian commitment? Are we self-centred even in our religious practices? Are we going to follow the path of giving and sharing, praying more, sacrificing and renouncing with the motive of self-renewal and better Christian commitment throughout this Lenten Season? Which of the above-mentioned creative ways of fasting we would like to observe?
&   A prayer
A pure heart create in me O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within me. Do not despise my broken and contrite heart. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Amen.

8th Sun 2014 - José Enrique Ruiz de Galarreta S.J.- translated by Vally D

Eighth Sunday in OT (A)  2.03.2014
José Enrique Ruiz de Galarreta S.J.

Commentary on the Sunday Readings -  Is 49:14-15

The most common opinion today is that this book was written by an anonymous prophet (who claims to follow the school of Isaiah )about the year 539, a date on which the Persian king Cyrus will conquer Babylon thus ending the empire of the Chaldeans. Cyrus will follow the politics of tolerance and will allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and reconstruct the Temple.

   These events are interpreted by the prophet: the deportation to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem are punishments of God for the sins, the infidelity of Israel. But they are punishments so that Israel may repent and return to Him. The anger of Yahweh against his people does not last because he loves them. And here the text we read today with its beautiful message is included: even though a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.

THE LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS

It is a fragment that has to be understood in the context of the whole of this part of the letter, in which Paul sends them a reprimand for the many deficiencies there are in their church. In any case it is not very clear why the theme of judgment is introduced. Perhaps because some people, motivated by purely human wisdom (as is apparent in the previous paragraphs and we have read on the preceding Sundays)were passing unfavorable judgments against Paul. Paul abandons himself to the judgment of God and refers to a universally valid criterion: what matters is not the judgment of men but fidelity to Jesus.

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT  - Mt.6:24-34

Once more, this paragraph is very useful, for besides its message, it shows us how to read and to understand the way of life of Jesus. Last Sunday we read the piece on turning the other cheek; we know the comparison of the camel and the eye of a needle, of filtering mosquitoes and swallowing camels, about cutting off one’s hand or taking out your eye...And so many other images Jesus uses to impress the audience and have his message stay in their minds. The exaggerations are the image, the wrapping which makes the message striking.

   It is a good example of the general style of the Sermon on the Mount, a group of teachings of Jesus brought together in a conventional setting and hardly organized (for our taste).
Keeping all this in mind the text has three parts:

1.     No one can serve two masters... You cannot serve God and money.
2.     The images of the birds and the lilies.
3.     Seek first the Kingdom and its justice.

   It is clear that the first is a saying of Jesus, perfectly in accord with  the teachings of Jesus on money (parable of the Rich Fool, of the Rich Fool and Lazarus...), while the second and the third speak directly of the exclusivity of the Kingdom based on the images of the birds and the lilies. There is no connection between the first and those that follow, but the writer has placed them in this way based on the criterion of the rest of the Sermon, which may seem to us rather chaotic.

REFLECTION

We are used to drawing a conclusion about the lilies and the birds which seems to me hardly adequate. As though God would put flowers and birds as an example of the Providence of God, who takes care of all beings and frees them of worries. This is a romantic vision of nature, good only for children’s story books. God cares for the flowers, which invariably dry up whenever nobody looks after them. God cares for the birds which have no storage but they live their lives desperately looking for their food, they are at the mercy of predators and are destined like everything that lives to die - perhaps of hunger, perhaps violently.
 
   No, these phrases cannot refer to providence, to trust in a God who worries about us even when we do not work or care for our lives, for our health... Jesus is not a simpleton, believer in providence, who hopes that bread will fall from heaven. Jesus is a carpenter who earned his living working with his father for thirty years, and when he walked along the roads, lived off what he was given; he had an administrator, ( Judas for sure) who looked after their income, and bought their victuals in the villages along the road (episode of the Samaritan woman).

   Nor is it true that God looks after us and so nothing disagreeable will occur as some psalms seem to say. Jesus will die on the cross and his Father will not save him from it. The meaning of all this is in the final phrase: “Seek first the Kingdom and its justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” I would even dare to say that we would find the complete meaning in this way: Seek first his Kingdom and its justice, and the providential adornments are due to the contagion of the Old Testament to which Matthew has made us so accustomed to.

   Jesus is speaking of preferences, of which is the most important of our values. The word “values” demands the word “scale”. It is not a matter of which things we value more than others. What do we value more, health or entertainment, children or earning more money, fidelity or advantage...? Jesus uses the image of “serving a master”, because our values are not only (nor perhaps chiefly, acts of the will, choices,) but giving in to an attraction, slavery. Seen thus, Jesus sees clearly that some things attract us more than others, and that between money and the kingdom we are far more attracted to money.
 

   “You cannot serve both God and money.” SERVE, have as a master. Two ways of living are being compared: for myself – for others. This is well understood with the old (and renewed by Jesus) precept: you must love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. Because it is taken for granted that everyone loves himself, seeks his own good; what is proposed here is to extend that love to others, and that is to serve God, that is the Kingdom, that is to take that value as the highest.

   The highest is the Kingdom. All else comes after that, only after that. Then we will know that food, clothing, the vast major part of the things that worry us so much, are far less important, and will worry us much less. Jesus is not saying that food, clothing... don’t matter; he is telling us how much they matter, he is telling us what is most important, fundamental, and what comes after that, the rest, what is “added on.”

   Undoubtedly, what Jesus proposes is a new scale of values: what comes first and what afterwards. We clearly value what Jesus proposes, we value the Kingdom, but above everything else?

   All this should not take us unquestionably to a spirituality of renunciation, as many ascetics believed who thought of “fleeing the world” physically as a way of following Jesus. What we hold on to is not fleeing but making everything serve the purpose of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not built by fleeing the world  but by doing everything in the spirit of Jesus. We do not serve two masters when we buy, exchange, procreate, enjoy... All that can be to serve God. The spirituality of renunciation, of flight may be the right one for some, but obviously not for the majority of people.
 

   “What is added.” What is added is that when we direct all things to the purpose of the  Kingdom, those very things take on a better value. When things are enjoyed and the only and absolute purpose is to enjoy, we do not discover the greater enjoyment. Here the parable of the treasure applies very well, and that of the salt: se discover more delight in everything when we direct it to the Kingdom than when we only seek to enjoy it for itself; this leads to the emptiness (hastio) of meaninglessness. The heart of the human being is made for more. And the kingdom is precisely to offer (and exact) more.

   It is not accidental that the beatitudes, the basic law of Jesus, are not drawn up as laws, or as requirements; “you would be more happy if...”

   To paraphrase the last phrase of our text: Seek first the Kingdom and its justice and everything else will “taste” much better.


PROFESSION OF FAITH IN THE KINGDOM

I believe that those who share are happy, those who live on little, those who are not slaves of their desires.

I believe they are happy who know how to suffer, who find in You and in their brothers consolation and know how to comfort those who suffer.

I believe those are happy who know how to forgive, those who allow themselves to be forgiven by their brothers and sisters, those who live your forgiveness with pleasure.
I believe that the pure of heart are happy, those who see the best in others, those who live in sincerity and in truth.

I believe those are happy who sow peace, those who treat all as your children, those who sow respect and harmony.

I believe they are happy who work for a more just and more holy world and they are still happier if they have to suffer to make it happen.

I believe they are happy who do not hold in their  barns their stocks of wheat of this life that ends, but who sow it without measure, so that it produces the fruit of life that does not end.

And I believe all this because I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son, the man full of the Spirit, Jesus Christ, the Lord.


8th Sunday 2014 - Pagola/ Vally D

EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A) 2 March 2014

Mt.6: 24-34

NO TO THE IDOLATRY OF MONEY

José Antonio Pagola

Money, now become an  absolute idol, is for Jesus the greatest enemy of a dignified, just and united world God wants. It is twenty centuries since the Prophet of Galilee denounced, in no uncertain terms, the fact that  the worship of money will be the major obstacle humanity will find to make progress towards a more humane coexistence.

   The reasoning of Jesus is compelling: “You cannot serve God and money.” God cannot reign in the world and be the Father of all without demanding  justice for those who are excluded from a life of dignity. Hence those who are dominated by the passion to accumulate wealth cannot work for that more humane world God wants for they promote an economy that excludes the weakest and abandons them to suffer hunger and misery.

   What’s happening with the coming of Pope Francis is surprising. While the media and social networks that operate through the internet inform us with all kinds of details of the smallest gestures of his admirable personality, his most urgent call to the whole of Humanity is glossed over in a shameful way: “No to an economy of exclusion and iniquity. That kind of economy kills.”

   However, Francis does not need long arguments or deep analysis to explain his thought. He knows how to summarize his indignation in clear expressive words that could open the news section of any newspaper, or make headlines in any country. Just a few examples.

   It’s not possible that the death from cold of an old man on the streets does not make news while the fall of two points of the stock market does. This is exclusion. It’s intolerable that food is thrown out while there are people who go hungry. That is criminal.

   We live “in the dictatorship of a faceless economy without a truly human purpose.” As a result, while the  profits of a few grow exponentially, those of the majority remain increasingly further away from  the well being of that happy minority.”

   The culture of well being anaesthizes us and we lose our peace if the market offers something we haven’t yet bought, while all those lives cut short for want of possibilities seem to be a show that in no way changes us.

   As he himself said: “this message isn’t marxism  but pure Gospel.” It’s a message that must have a lasting echo in our Christian communities. Otherwise  it would be a sign of what the Pope says: “We are becoming incapable of sympathizing with the cries of others; we no longer weep at the tragedy of others.”


Ash Wednesday 2014 by Fr Jude

Dear friend,

Not many of us enjoy or look forward to a disciplined routine because we feel it will mean hard work, cutting out fun and frolic and constantly being on target. Yet, our experience tells us that we need the discipline approach to put things right in matters of health, career and achieving the goals we set ourselves. This season is lent to us, given to us, to get our bearings, check how we are progressing in life and make the necessary changes, to be on the path to God and life. Let's make the symbolic ritual, a life-giving conversion of life!   Fr. Jude

Sunday Reflections: Ash Wednesday - "Rend your hearts, not your garments! Repent and believe the good news!"  5-Mar-2014

The first reading from the prophet Joel reminds us that sometimes God invited the people of Israel to come back to Him through the great disasters that befell them. It was after one such disaster that the prophet Joel conveyed the message that God would come to their rescue. The disaster that befell the Israelites at that time was the invasion of locusts that came in large numbers from the desert and devoured everything. The people were devastated and the prophet Joel called them to prayer and to penance. He assured them that if they came back to Yahweh, Yahweh would provide them with food they needed. He reminded them that everyone should do penance, the priests and the laity, the young and the old, even the children. They needed to ask God's pardon as a family, as one community and God would forgive them all.

Find someone in need
Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health, and then answered questions from the audience. "What would you advise a person to do," asked one man, "if that person felt a nervous breakdown was coming on?" Most people expected him to reply, "Consult a psychiatrist." To their disappointment he replied, "Lock your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need and do something to help that person." -Don't sit and pout. Get up and do something for others!
Brian Cavanaugh in 'The Sower's Seeds'

The Gospel of today speaks to us of three paths that can lead us back to God: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. However Jesus reminds us that these three practices by themselves will not lead us to God unless we perform them with a humble heart. We can perform them diligently but from the wrong motives; so that others may notice our good works. Lent is a time for renewing our prayer life. We are reminded in today's gospel. "But when you pray, go to your private room and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father, who is in that secret place, and your father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you." Is Jesus against praying in public with the community or prayer group? Are we putting on a performance to make an impression on others? Would we do the same if no one was watching? Our community prayer life needs to be balanced with private and personal prayer. The second practice recommended is fasting and abstinence and again we are reminded that how we do it is more important than what we do. If fasting makes us irritable, if we fast with long faces and put on a gloomy look and make all around us miserable, there is something wrong with that kind of fasting. The heart of fasting is to do without something that we like and believe we can't do without, in order to realize that God can supply our every need. We may observe the letter of the law but have missed out on its spirit. What about a weekly fast from our favourite TV serial? The third practice of the devout Jew was almsgiving. Again the admonition is the same: "So when you give alms do not have it trumpeted before you to win men's admiration... your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing, your alms giving must be secret." By alms is meant any kind of help, material or spiritual we give to our neighbour. We could help our neighbour in need, we could give them encouragement, we can appreciate the goodness in others, we can help someone in spiritual danger.  Are we bringing people to Jesus by our words, our good example and our deeds?

Ready to change?
Once, a king was walking through the streets of the capital city when he came upon a beggar who immediately asked him for money. The king did not give him any money. Instead he invited him to his palace. The beggar took up the king's offer. On the appointed day he made his way to the royal palace, and was duly ushered into the king's presence. However as he came into the king's presence he was acutely conscious of his rags and felt ashamed of them. They were an eloquent symbol of the wretchedness of his life. The king, an exceptionally kind man, received him warmly, took pity on him, and among other things gave him a new suit. However, a few days later the beggar was back to begging on the streets, dressed in his old rags. Why did he give up the new suit? Because he knew that to wear it would mean that he would have to live a new life. It would mean giving up the life of a beggar. This he was not prepared to do. It wasn't that the new life did not appeal to him. It did. It was just that a change of life would be slow, painful and uncertain. In other words he was too much steeped in habit to change.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holy day Liturgies'

The Nail Post
A father wanted his son to really understand the importance of making right choices, of obeying and doing what's right. And so if his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he'd give him a hammer and a nail to take out into the backyard and pound into a fence post. Every day the son went through the whole day making good decisions, he'd let the boy go out and take out one of those nails. Until the boy was fifteen, there were always two or three nails in the post, -seemed he'd be nailing new ones as often as he'd pull out others. The youth started to mature and make better decisions and finally one day all the nails were removed from the post. That was when his dad took him back and said, "I want you to notice something about the post." The son looked at the post for a moment and realized that all the nails that once were driven in and then later removed had left small holes in the post. The holes were the remaining effects of the nails. His dad said," I want to tell you something son, about bad choices and decisions. Even though you may be totally forgiven from your bad choices or decisions, and there are no nails visible, there are the remaining effects, the consequences, of those choices or decisions; just like the holes in that fencepost."
Author Unknown

Clean up time!
Recently, I took my great niece to Burger King for lunch. Distracted by our interesting chat, I dipped my jacket sleeve in the ketchup. First I wiped the mess with napkins, then I washed the sleeve with water and soap in the washroom. Did the ketchup leave a mark? I hoped not. Later, when I got back in the rectory, I quickly headed for the laundry room.  Before putting it in the wash, I carefully checked the sleeve for stains, I found none. No traces of ketchup anywhere on the sleeve. But just to be sure, I washed the jacket anyway. It is only a jacket, yet I took time to check for stains. It is only a jacket, yet I washed it even when it didn't 'look dirty.' It is only a jacket... What about my soul? My life? How many marks, how many stains, how many faults are there to be cleansed? The ash that we receive on Ash Wednesday is a sign that we intend to clean the mess in our lives in forty days, and get back on track to the reign of God. Today, we are reminded, "There is a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best of us."
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

Forty days of Lent
Today we begin the forty days of Lent. The church invites us to walk along this path of prayer, penance and alms giving in order to reach the feast of Easter, where new life is to be found. Along the way we will be tempted to believe that the journey is too difficult, that we cannot make it, that it is pointless to hope for new life. However, if we persevere in observing the Lenten discipline, we will be assured of the joy of Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday when ashes are imposed on our foreheads, reminding us that we are sinners and that we need to repent and change our ways. The word Lent sometimes causes some uneasiness perhaps because of the forty days of fasting, penance and alms giving. We read in the Old Testament that the Chosen People of God spent forty days wandering in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Elijah, the prophet, walked forty days in order to escape Jezebel until he reached Mount Horeb. Jesus spent forty days in the desert praying and fasting before he began his public ministry. We are invited to spend forty days in prayer, fasting and alms giving in order to prepare for Easter. Are we ready?
Elias Dias in 'Divine Stories for Families'

May we courageously enter into this holy season of Lent to be transformed by it!
 
 
Fr. Jude Botelho

PS. The stories, incidents and anecdotes used in the reflections have been collected over the years from books as well as from sources over the net and from e-mails received. Every effort is made to acknowledge authors whenever possible. If you send in stories or illustrations I would be grateful if you could quote the source as well so that they can be acknowledged if used in these reflections. 
These reflections are also available on my Web site www.NetForLife.net Thank you.

22 February, 2014

CBCI XXXI PLENARY ASSEMBLY FINAL STATEMENT 13 February, 2014 - with comments

Renewed Church for a Renewed Society
Responding to the Call of Vatican II
As reviewed by the Holy Spirit tonight
The comments are in red in the original of this text.

1. We, the 187 member-bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), came together at the Alphonsian Pastoral Institute, Palai in Kerala, the place sanctified by St. Alphonsa, from February 5 -12, 2014, for the 31st Plenary Assembly. In continuation of the 30th Plenary Assembly’s theme, Role of the Church for a Better India, the Bishops deliberated, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on the theme:  “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society - Responding to the Call of Vatican II”.  On the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the CBCI Plenary Assembly reflected on this theme in the light of the Second Vatican Council documents in order to draw inspiration for her future course of life and ministry. We took into account the reflections of the Catholic Council of India which studied the same theme at its December 2013 annual meeting in Varanasi

2. We first recalled the Church’s self-understanding, enshrined in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, as the pilgrim People of God, a community rooted in a deep experience of the Trinitarian God in Christ Jesus.  Ad Gentes, reminds us that the Church is a community with a mission to evangelize, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all, a mission entrusted to her by Jesus and the Spirit. The Church exercises her mission in a world marked by a tremendous imbalance:  a few very rich and the vast majority poor struggling to eke out a living. The Document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes impels the members of the Church to an involvement in the struggles of suffering humanity based on the principles of respect for the human person, solidarity and effective social dialogue to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.  Finally, the Council document on the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem points out that the lay faithful, who form the vast majority in this People of God, have a specific role in society – that of penetrating and perfecting the temporal order in the spirit of the Gospel. The above para looks like a recitation rather than a reflection. This is old hat. What is new in it to ignite the interest of those reading it?

3. When we look at our country, we see corruption plaguing every sphere of society. Only a passing reference to monumental and Himalayan corruption that has been uncovered almost every week since November 2010? Rs 176,000 crores in telecom along, a similar amount in coal, an FIR against Mukesh Ambani and Veerappa Moily only last week and all you can do is make a passing reference? Is this being prophetic? Who are you afraid of? Or are you afraid of meeting the fate of Sr Valsa John, the IOC engineer and so many others who have been killed merely for speaking out against corruption? In such a scenario, Church institutions must be an example of transparency and probity. Are they? Why do we shy away from making a judgmental statement? Isn’t that why God gave his creatures a mind and critical faculties?  How do you jump suddenly to internal migration? What is the connection between corruption and migration? Another phenomenon is that of internal migration which, while opening opportunities to people, has torn the cultural and religious moorings that sustained them. What about the hatred of migrants that we are seeing in our country and even in the church? Not wanting people from other parts of India even in the church – witness the Church in Bangalore, the recent killings in Delhi, the raids on Nigerians by a government minister in Delhi – did the archbishop of Delhi and his people raise their voices against this violation of their human dignity and the law itself? Globalization too has brought in its wake problems like prolonged working hours which have disrupted family life. What a childish statement on the church’s favourite whipping horse! As if people did not work long hours before globalization – and for less money! What about the benefits of connectivity that God has helped through the Internet, the connectivity that has also created massive work shifts – with pluses and minuses? And why this sudden jump from globalization to fundamentalism as if it is a new phenomenon? We witness the trend to fundamentalism which seeks to dilute the secular character of our nation. Against this trend, we stand by the values upheld by the Indian Constitution and appeal to governments to respect these values. Which government has been known to heed appeals to respect these values? How often have you gone to court to enforce those values? What are courts for? Do you remember how the right to life itself was violated in Kandhamal and in Mangalore one Sunday afternoon in 2008 when 21 churches were attacked? What leadership did you show and what legal action did you take to enforce your constitutional rights? Did you not reject offers by a group of lawyers to help you enforce those rights? Have you told your people why you did that?    

4. The Church in India has tried to live up to the vision of Vatican II. Tried? Tried? For 50 years? Tell them, your people, what commitments you made and where you failed and why. Several people have been led to a deep experience of God through reading the Word of God without action, through the traditional practices of piety again without action, easy to do in the church compound, and through the Charismatic Movement Praise the Lord Hallelujah! In many places Small Christian Communities, rooted in the Word and Eucharist have been established. Really? Aren’t these SCCs cynically referred to as Samosa-Chai Charcha “These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a 'civilization of love'" (Redemptoris Missio, 51). The Church has worked for the uplift of the downtrodden. True but not because of the institutional church in the last 40 years but because of the courageous commitment of individuals and small groups determined to be the Light in the darkness around. She has been appreciated for the way she has responded immediately to natural calamities, for her unbiased outreach to the needy and vulnerable sections of society. Participatory structures have been established in several regions, dioceses and parishes. The 2010 CBCI Gender Policy has been hailed as a step in the right direction. How many church institutions have a Vishaka Committee or Grievance Redressal Committees staffed and dominated by strong women? Youth have experienced empowerment through training programs and services. Have they? Is that why they are outstanding Catholics, outside the church doors and also voting with their feet towards other new faith groups that demand more involvement from them than the Catholic Church?

5.  However, there is still need for improvement. An understatement! The reflections of the Plenary Assembly centred chiefly on seven areas:

5.i. Fostering God Experience: What is needed is a deep experience of the Trinitarian God drawing on the treasures of the Church especially the Word and Sacraments. For this, our liturgies have to be well prepared, participative and meaningful. Hence, we have decided to initiate a renewal in the celebration of the liturgy so that it becomes an effective means for Christ-centred God experience.  We bishops have to be ourselves Spirit-filled men of God, giving priority to prayer and to the Word of God, and helping our clergy and lay faithful to become aware of God’s presence and activity in their lives.  The God experience will will did you say? Will in the future? Have you set a deadline? And what kind of commitment have you made to bring about that conversion?  lead to an inner conversion made visible in the simplicity of our lives, in our attitude of love, compassion and forgiveness.  Following the example of Pope Francis, we will live a genuinely simple, humble, welcoming and outgoing life reaching out to all people.  We will so orient the formation of future priests and religious that they enter the ministry with an attitude of humility, ready to serve the poor and marginalized of society. Aha! Now you are talking! At least you have Pope Francis to follow, even though you forgot the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head while the Holy Roman Pontiff had a whole palace to himself which Pope Francis rightly refused to stay in! I am glad you are noticing these changes brought about by Pope Francis.

5.ii. Addressing justice issues: The experience of God will lead us to involvement in and solidarity with the marginalized and the exploited, those suffering from disabilities, those living in the peripheries of economic, cultural and social spheres. We will speak out only speak out? How much have you spoken out against corruption? Did you speak out against it to Sonia when you went to garland her a few weeks ago? against all forms of injustice meted out to them and we will defend their rights. Defend rights did you say? When you did not stand up for the constitutional rights of the people of God in Kandhamal and Karnataka? We listened to the call of Pope Francis urging us to “work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 188). We want wanting is not enough, you wanted that for a long time. What commitment have you made? the Church to be truly a Church of the Poor.  We reaffirm our solidarity with the Dalits in India who continue to be oppressed. Talk, talk, talk again! The CBCI reiterates its resolve to struggle for equal rights of Dalit Christians on par with their counterparts in other religions. How many bishops are ready to go to jail, to by clubbed by police batons, water cannon?  We will continue the fight against the 1950 Presidential Order, which unjustly discriminates against Dalit Christians and we demand that the Government remove this 64 year injustice. Justice delayed is justice denied. We also commit ourselves to rooting out all forms of discrimination within the Church and ensuring equal opportunities in leadership roles for Dalit Christians. OK, so what commitments have you made there? Commitment, my dear bishop, commitment!

5.iii. Ensuring for our lay faithful their rightful place:  Recognizing the God-given talents and potentialities of the lay faithful, we will, in the first place, listen more to their voice. Hence, we commit ourselves to establish Pastoral Councils in every diocese. Is that all you can talk about 50 years after Vatican II? Aren’t you ashamed to even say it? We realize that formation of the lay faithful is the need of the hour. Really? Haven’t you destroyed formation through nominating your yes-men and yes-women? To this end, we commit ourselves, as a priority, to initiate programmes for lay formation to equip them to play their role in the Church and society.

5.iv. Stamping out strong word! Discrimination against Women. We commit ourselves to strive for the equal dignity of and equal opportunities for women so will you start by paying women (nuns and lay women) on par with priests, providing especially equal opportunities for the education of the girl child. We wholeheartedly support the campaign against female foeticide and domestic violence.  In the face of increasing sexual abuse and violence in Indian society, we will do all in our power to enforce discipline so as to ensure a secure environment in our institutions for women and children how cleverly you dodge commitment! Couldn’t you commit yourself to instituting Vishaka committees in every church institution where there are women as per the guidelines of the Indian Supreme Court? Why are you shying away? Are you aware that when you were having your meeting in Palai, Maharashtra proposed that every institution without a committee would be fined heavily till it set up one?    

5.v.. Creating a Christian presence in political and public life.  We depend in a special way on our youth, the future leaders of the Church and society. As bishops we realize much more needs to be done for them. We want want to, always a want to, never a commit to! Why are you bishops afraid of making the same commitment you seek from others? As for leadership, do you forget that Ossie Gracias came to this Palai meeting wearing three hats? Is that leadership?  to embark on intensive programmes for them to enter into the mainstream of public life so as to ensure value-based politics. Hence, we request every region to set up, wherever possible, training centres to prepare the youth for leadership roles in civic and political life.    

5.vi. Promoting Dialogue. India is home to a rich variety of ancient cultures and religions.  The Church in India has to be a Church in dialogue.  We urge our lay faithful to engage in the “dialogue of life”, mingling with our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions, greeting them on their feast days and being with them in life’s vulnerable moments such as sickness and death. Besides strengthening the already existing Small Christian Communities, we will seek to establish Basic Human Communities which would be a powerful means for communal peace and harmony. 

5.vii. Safeguarding Ecology. The Bishops re-affirm their commitment to the protection of nature.  We stand for sustainable development of peoples and human ecology. Is this why you still believe in putting up ugly concrete structures? The CBCI Plenary Assembly shares the apprehensions of people living in the Western Ghats and in the areas affected by the 2011 Notification of the Ministry of Environment on the Coastal Regulation Zone. I love the way you pick something from the newspapers that does not cost or demand anything from you and put it into this mish-mash of a statement! We appeal to the Union Government to protect the civic rights of the inhabitants in areas adversely affected by the proposals of the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan Reports. Have you read the two reports and how they are different from each other! The CBCI also shares the similar concerns of the tribal population in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand fast coming under mining projects. Yes, of course, how can you not mention the tribals by way of lip service!                  

6. The road ahead of us is challenging.  But we count on the presence of the Risen Lord who, through the power of His Spirit, “makes all things new” God helps only those who help themselves and this is where I find you wanting terribly! (Rev. 21:5). All renewal is always the work of the Spirit. Remember, the Holy Spirit works only if you let her! We place our efforts at renewing the Church in view of renewing society in the hands of Mary, our Mother, the Star of Evangelization. 



Fr. Joseph Chinnayyan
Deputy Secretary General &
Spokesperson, CBCI