Thursday, April 23, 2020

Covid Care Diary: Relief Work in Time of Lockdown

With the lockdown of Covid 19, Mount St Joseph community along with its Loyola Educational Institutions and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the campus have been doing a wonderful work of charity. Our target group has been the daily wage earners and stranded migrant workers from various parts of Karnataka and the rest of India.

The whole Jesuit community, both young and senior members have fully immersed into this charitable work. The Loyola College building has been turned into a hub of grocery distribution centre. Students of our Degree College and IHMC parish volunteers are helping us in packing things. There are also Catholic religious Nuns and Priests in the neighbourhood who have joined us in reaching out these groceries to the needy and deserving people in our vicinity.  

I have been writing Covid Care Diary in our MSJ house blog. Have a nice reading:

7. Covid Care Diary: Farmers as our Primary Benefactors

6. Covid Care Diary: Auto Drivers as Our Trusted Collaborators

5. Covid Care Diary: Reaching out to the Right People through Documentation

4. Covid Care Diary - The Large Hearted Volunteers

3. Covid Care Diary: Catholic Religious Brothers & Sisters at Work

2. Covid Care Diary: Reaching out to the Physically Challenged

1. Covid Care Diary: Work Continues Reaching the Unreached

- Olvin Veigas, SJ
23 April 2020

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday: Jesus - "My Lord, My God"

Divine Mercy Sunday/ 2nd Sunday of Easter: Readings - Acts 2:42–47; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31
(The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio 1601-1602)

The scriptural readings of today's liturgy are very powerful and significant. They are in tune with what we celebrate today: The Divine Mercy of Sunday, which is also Second Sunday of Easter. The first reading that we have from the Acts of the Apostles 2:42–47 is reminder that how best a good Christian community could live with a spirit of the Risen Jesus. It's community of full of mercy and compassion and have accepted Jesus as their Master and Lord. 
The Gospel reading from St John 20:19–31 speaks about the second apparition of the Resurrected Jesus to his disciples. This happens when all the 11 disciples were present including Thomas who was absent during Jesus' first apparition. Thomas' exclamation and confession of faith in Jesus is central one. He exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Nowhere in the Gospel, we find any other disciple or other person calling Jesus as God.   This confession also speaks about who is Jesus for Thomas, who was called the Twin. It is the same disciple who had said in the earlier time referring to his master soon after raising Lazarus from the dead, to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him [Jesus].” (John 11:16)
The three synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke speak of stories, parables, journeys and events in the life of Jesus.  They paint a portrait of a wandering “prophet” who is busy performing miracles, healing the sick, consoling the poor and downtrodden, comforting the lost, and lonely and raising the dead. He is an attracting figure who befriends all including women, children, strangers, samaritans and Romans. Others speak for him including his Father “This is my beloved Son…” (Matt 3:17, 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). The experience of his kindness, faithfulness, joys, tears and sorrows are overflowing.
However, the gospel of John is different.  We do not see the infancy narratives of Jesus. John begins with Jesus as the “Word” of God.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (1:1). Throughout John’s gospel we see exposition of Jesus as divine son of God. The various “signs” of the divinity of Jesus the Christ are manifested either by his own words or by the expressions of others. Many questions are asked including the famous one: “Who do you say I am?”  John makes known Jesus is meant for all. Jesus is a man for the multitudes. Jesus is recognized as someone who is different by the first miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). In his feast everyone is included and no one is left out. For John, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (14:6). He is the Marga! The one who shows a way to the father. He is the good shepherd (Jn 10:11). He is the vine and we are the branches (Jn 15:5). He is resurrection and life (Jn 11:25). He is a friend (Jn 15:15), etc.
Interestingly, the gospel writer John places his own friend Thomas in opposition to what Jesus appears in his narration. Thomas is a person who is so human in his dealings that he is the one who will tell the entire creation who actually Jesus is: My Lord, my God. Thomas doubts at every point of resurrection episodes. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my fingers into the nailmarks and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
Jesus says three times in today's reading, "peace be with you". In Hebrew, it is Shalom. Its root meaning is wholeness, fullness or completeness. In other words, what Jesus is referring here is the completeness or perfection of everything. There is no slightest edge for what is not peace or harmony. With the resurrection, whatever Jesus communicates to his disciples is going to be a complete, harmonious perfection of God's power which they would proclaim to others.
There is an another word which is really fascinating, i.e. "breathed". Jesus "breathed on them [disciples] and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). In Greek, it's "Enpousou" τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει. In the bible only two times this word is used. The first one is in Genesis 2:7 "then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." This word ἐνεφύση is rich with meaning. Jesus is giving a new life to those terrified, depressed, disappointed, panic stricken disciples a fresh life. In other words, people who were lifeless. With Jesus' gesture they would become the messengers of the good news, Evangelium to the entire creation. Just like the first created person would guide the entire universe, the apostles would be Jesus' imitators in building a reign of God which is full of justice, peace and truth.
Today, the Church celebrates the Divine Mercy Sunday. The first thought that comes to our mind is the picture of Divine Mercy with those consoling words inscribed “Jesus, I trust in you,” The readings of today suggest very powerfully for a call to all of us to become missionaries of mercy.  Indeed, it's a worthy challenge. People should know me not by my social status, work or group that I belong to, but by the sheer sense of the kind of person I am.
(Divine Mercy, Kazimirowski Eugeniusz, 1934)
Since 2000, the second Sunday of Easter has been known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II canonised Sister Faustina Kowalska of Poland on 30 April 2000. She had visions of the Divine Mercy. Jesus told Sr Faustina: “Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy.” Through this devotion we are called to be a ray of hope when suffering and death continue to experience here in our own cities, towns, neighbourhoods and around the world due to corona infection.  There is fear, panic, greed, hoarding, violence and death.  Thousands of people have died, millions are infected by this killer bug and many more will die. 
Strangely, there is still violence and wars being waged around many countries of the world during this time when death is at the corner by the Corona pandemic. The 20th century has seen enough and more wars, genocides, man made disasters and famine. The political leaders and decision makers seem to be busy with how to protect their supremacy and hegemony in their countries and in the world. If this Corona killer bug is causing such havoc, it's because of our own greed and lack of mercy to one another. Certainly, it could have contained long ago. What is consoling is that this corona can infect any political leader in the world; president, prime minister, minister, king, queen, CEO, poor, rich, servant, noble, aristocrat or even a dictator.  Therefore, at least now everyone should understand that only mercy can heal us, touch us and save us. 

Christ has taught us that we not only receive and experience the mercy of God, but also called to practise mercy towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7). Jesus also showed us the many paths of mercy, solidarity, compassion, love and forgiveness. We should at this moment trust in that God who gave a new lease of life to his disciples. So that all the ills and anxieties that are created by this present situation may be taken away completely and the whole planet may be healed quickly.

A few questions to ponder

1.What kind picture of Jesus I can paint with my life experiences?
2. How far Jesus has been my Lord and my God during this Corona lockdown?
3. Have I ever considered myself as Thomas Apostle, who looks for authenticity and ultimately to the Lord?
4. Like Thomas do I believe only what I personally experience? 
5. Where is this God of ours during this time of Corona pandemic? 

- Olvin Veigas, SJ
Divine Mercy Sunday (19th April 2020)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A New Life with the Risen Lord: Friendship, Focus and Fellowship

Easter Day: Readings - Acts 10:34, 37–43; Psalm 118:1–2, 16–17, 22–23; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9
Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre by Eugene Burnand, ca. 1898. 
John 20:3-4, capturing the emotion on Peter and John's faces. 
They have just been informed by Mary Magdelene that the tomb is empty.

Today is the Easter. Peace and joy is our song. As we meditate over the empty tomb, the desolate and desperate women who loved Jesus, they are consoled by the Risen Lord in an unexpected way. The experience of the Risen Jesus is a very powerful experience in the lives of disciples which leaves them committed to the Lord and his teachings completely. This defining moment makes a special mark in their lives being messengers of friendship, focus and fellowship. The experience of the Resurrection of their friend and teacher gives them indomitable courage and unceasing perseverance. 

I would like to reflect on three aspects that matter most in the Resurrection episodes. 

The first one is that friendship with Jesus matters a lot. It determines their future. The resurrected Jesus meets only his close acquaintances. He meets those people who were very part of him like, his friends, his disciples, his close relatives, etc. St Ignatius of Loyola would go a step further and would say in the Spiritual Exercises that the Risen Jesus must have met first his own mother (Sp. Ex 299). The Risen Jesus does not show himself to scribes or pharisees, and to those people who were looking to eliminate him from this world.  

The first reading that we have today, Acts of the Apostles 10:40–41 says "God raised him [Jesus] on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." Jesus does not appear to people as he did before he went into passion. He was present in the streets, market squares, temples, feasts, houses, etc. The resurrected Jesus was not a dream or some sort of illusion, instead, Risen Christ could be seen, heard and touched.  He walked with the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He appeared as a gardener, worker, pilgrim and so on. He ate and drank with those to whom he appeared.

In other words, if you are ready to be part of Jesus' life, ready to partake in joys and sorrows of Jesus then you will partake also in his resurrection. 

The second aspect that matters most in the resurrection episodes is that there is a new focus and fellowship. The resurrection narratives take away those moments and events of bitterness. Jesus' passion, suffering and death on the Cross is no more an episode of vengeance, revenge or hatred towards those inflicted, those who inflicted death on Jesus but on the contrary a sheer sense of joy and peace everywhere including an invitation for fellowship with those who didn't want the mission of Jesus to continue. All are invited to take part at least now change or mend their ways. 

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of the  Paris Archdiocese seems to have said when there are scandals  or pressing problems, we need to concentrate on fresh areas, focus our attention on something that is life giving. This would help in being more profitable, positive and sustainable instead of simply bogged down or drowned with such issues. The concentration of the disciples soon after the Resurrection of Jesus was to preach what their teacher had done in his life. They are not spending time looking at Jesus on the Cross or the empty tomb. They are out in imitating what their friend had done and told them to do. They do not conspire against those who killed Jesus or get themselves dissolved as a group of committed and connected people. All that is old is changed into new, all that is bitter, sad and unhappy are turned into happy, joyful and peaceful pointers of people. 

Third aspect of episode of Resurrection of Jesus is that evil has its end. What remains is only the goodness, beauty and everlasting peace.  We also see a tremendous increase of creativity among the disciples. There is terrific resilience and enthusiasm among those Easter disciples to do something great for the Lord. For them Jesus does not remain neither on the cross nor in the empty tomb but among the people, in the nitty-gritty matters of life, in the messiness of this world. 

Resurrection episode is a once and for all event. It doesn't take place the second time. Death is transformed by life. Good Friday event has to be passed through. Therefore all human events are redefined and refreshed. As a Christian we are called to look at our life and things that are happening in the world with the eyes of the resurrection narratives of Jesus.  With this great event, Jesus is here; Jesus is there; and Jesus is everywhere. 

Resurrected Jesus is beyond space and time. Our human mind can't even say this is what exactly the Risen Jesus is. Death is transformed by life and that hatred is overpowered by love. The disciples once they come to realise its truth, they are totally overwhelmed by it and their lives change completely.  Interestingly, the Resurrection is a reality that is only made fully known to those who are ready to accept it and who can transcend all the limitations that the mind of this world offers or the world that thinks that it is true. Moreover, once the evil is ended, truth is prevailed, the disciples' minds are receptive to what Jesus had preached and practiced. 

Therefore at this time of Corona crisis, let Jesus be our Easter. Let this magnificent feast of our salvation might help us find deeper friendship with our Lord. Let our focus and fellowship may be strengthened and increased manifold. 


- Olvin Veigas, SJ
Easter Sunday - 12th April 2020

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Joy and Courage with God Centered Life

Easter Vigil Mass: Matthew 28:1-10
(The Resurrection of Christ, Noël Coypel, c. 1700)

Grace and peace to you my dear brothers, sisters and dear children,

As you watch this live streaming of the Easter Vigil Mass in your homes or apartments, you are very much present at this liturgical service even though we cannot see you in person. As you see us, you must be thinking what is this all about during the lockdown. Perhaps some sort of fear, anxiety and grief must be in your minds with the uncertainties of our life and existence. Easter vigil Mass always fascinated me since my childhood, because this special service happened in the night, the calmness, the candles, the burning of fire, the incense, holy water, the falling of melted candle on the hands and fingers, darkness of the evening and so forth, gave a perfect reason to enjoy the solitude and beauty of this Holy Eucharist. Perhaps you may be having your own childhood experiences to complement mine. 

However, my dear friends with our changed circumstances as we are almost like under house arrest, we are trying to live that experience of Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, the close disciples of Jesus. It seems to us, passion of our Lord is long and unending, suffering of the friends and close relatives of Jesus looks like are not getting over from their lives. Tiredness of the evening and darkness of the night are frightening. Just as St John’s Gospel reads “And behold there was an earthquake” we too must be shaken up by this corona earthquake. We do not know where to run and escape? Where to hide? 

In this context, there is a strong source of strength expressed by the angel to the women, “Do not be afraid.” Yes, “do not be afraid”, should be our mantra in a very particular way. The Bible uses 365 times the words connected with “do not be afraid expression” as if every day we should carry with us the word from the bible. Prophet Isaiah Ch 41: 10 says “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will surely help you; I will uphold you with My right hand of righteousness.”

At Easter God insists, “Do not be afraid,” When the disciples were in the boat and the boat was struck by the storm, disciples of Jesus wake him up from his sleep. The very first words that he used was “why are you afraid. Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40).

Therefore, first and foremost the Easter of 2020 tells us so emphatically, “Do not be afraid, but have faith.” Speaking at the extraordinary moment of prayer at the Urbi et Orbi in an empty square of St Peter’s on 27th March, Pope Francis said “We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us.” 

At the loss of Jesus their teacher and Master, at the death of a close friend and relative, Mary Magdalene and other women did was to stay together and search for him. Gospel of St. John speaks so vibrantly about how these women and disciples were looking for Jesus even after his death. The consoling thing is that they were able to find him, they were able to get back to that courage which no one would take away from them. Not only that they would give witness to Jesus the Risen Lord by emptying themselves completely even giving their life to what they believed in him.  This is the faith that the Risen Jesus asking each of us today. 

The second aspect this Easter brings us is joy. A simple definition of a Christian is: he or she is a joyful person. A happy person, a person of consolation, a person of peace and serenity, a person of resilience and creativity, a person of magnanimity and generosity, a person who sees the joy in the other and participates as if it is his joy. In a world of hatred, jealousy, unforgiveness, envy, malice, evil, wrong doings, war, revenge, the Resurrection of Jesus calls to be people of Joy, people of solidarity.  A joy that no one can take away from us. So, let us be joyful. Joyful in Jesus.

The third aspect of this Easter brings home is that he or she is not self-centered but other centered, in other words, God centered. The destiny of each one of us not an end in ourselves but in God.  The future of the humanity is not inward looking but outward looking, looking at God the creator and Master of this world. Psalm 146, verse 2 puts it so beautifully “Don’t put trust in mortals, princes but in the Lord.” Psalm 23 says, “Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures”, and this Psalm ends by saying “surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” This world is passing and what remains is God’s spoken Word through the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus. He did not cling to his divinity St Paul writes to the Philippians Ch 2 versus 6-11, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. self-emptied himself”, That is why he was raised up. 

The moment we start to look at our successes, our achievements, our own ends, we see no end in God at all. We miss the point terribly. God becomes the center of our life with the resurrection episode of Jesus. When we are with the Lord, he never allows us to loose, he never keeps us away, but keeps us in the words of prophet Isaiah in his bosom Chapter 40:11 “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” What kept the disciples of Jesus and his friends was this, that they kept the memory of Jesus as center of their lives.

So, my dear friends, as you are in front of the screens seeing this beautiful service telecast, we pray earnestly to the Lord, that the Risen Lord fill us with his courage and strength, make us people of joy and solidarity, thus we may always be God centered. For this grace we pray at this Mass. Amen

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

Easter Vigil Mass, 11 April 2020

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Holy Eucharist: The Source and Summit of Christian Life - A Call to be the Eucharist Today

Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday/The Last Supper: Reading - John 13:1-15

(Last Supper: Jesus and his disciples)
Grace and peace to you my dear brothers and sisters, 

Today we celebrate a very beautiful day of our Christian faith that is Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. It’s a day when Jesus ate the last meal with his 12 disciples. It’s the day when Jesus celebrated the feast of Passover, commemorating the passing of Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh of Egypt and passed though the red sea, thus saving themselves.  It’s also the day when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples whom he loved so much and asked them to do the same to others. 

On this day, Jesus instituted Eucharist, where he gave his own body and blood as food and drink and asked every one of us to do the same.  The catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Eucharist is "the source and summit of Christian life.” The divine-human communion is realized in the person of Jesus Christ and as tangible evidence is seen in the Eucharist. Thus, through the eucharist we are called to be the Eucharist to others.

Even though, the Maundy Thursday gives us a lot of material to speak but we have to do the otherwise. We need to listen and see and finally touch and taste what is going on in that upper room as the reading of today John 13:1-15 speaks. We need to immerse our whole being to see and to open our mind and heart, imagination and senses. What is happening in the upper room with Jesus and other 12 apostles is an intimate experience of communion among themselves and the rest of the world. Before Jesus could institute the Eucharist by sharing the bread and wine with his disciples, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples as a symbol of service and equality. The Gospel puts it so touchingly John 13: 1, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved to the end.” 

Firstly, Love is the center of Jesus’ public ministry until the end. No one is excluded, no one is left out, everyone is part of God’s life, everyone has a significant place in the mission of Jesus Christ. Our hearts should experience this love of Christ as he washes the feet of his disciples, as he takes the bread and wine gives it others as his body and blood. This breath-taking event continues to take place in our world today when we do the works Jesus did, the kind of path he tread, the nature of truth and justice he preached and practiced. When we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless we too partake Christ’s love centered public ministry of Jesus. A gracious God poured life and love incessantly on the Hebrew people, till at the end He had only His only Son to give.

Secondly, Eucharist becomes the source of faith and hope: The last Passover meal of Jesus with his loved one’s is an endless supper. This solemn ritual that we have been doing since the last of day of Jesus’s public ministry continues to do so until he comes again in glory, until the Parousia. This endless supper is the source of our faith. 

The faith community is built upon this source and summit of our Christian existence. Jesus’ passionate desire to eat with his disciples Passover meal in the words of St Luke 22: 15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” continues to strengthen every Christian in his or her trials and temptations, in suffering and death, in passions and tribulations, in limited choices of life and hypocrisies of this world. 

And especially, my dear brothers, sisters and dear children during this time of the great temptation of letting ourselves drawn by the fear of loss of job, food, education, finances, dreams and future, temptation to be desperate, ill health and death at the wake of Corona virus infection, Jesus, this Eucharist should be the source of our faith, source of our healing, source of our strength, source of joy and peace, source of courage, source of belief. 

In fact, the Last Supper of Jesus is only the first supper! As “you eat this bread and drink this cup” St Paul insists in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 11: 26 “you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Each Eucharist boldly trumpets two tremendous truths: By his death Jesus gave us life, and this Jesus who died for us is the Lord, in Greek Kyrios. Therefore, let us hang on this Jesus and put our whole trust, faith and hope because he is the Lord, he is the master, he is our friend, he is our life and resurrection. He is the way, the truth and life. He is the way to the Father.  

Thirdly: Celebrating the Eucharist is celebrating our life in Jesus’ ministry of priesthood.  By our baptism we are called to partake in Jesus’ ministry of priestly, kingly and prophetic. Today we celebrate in a very special way priesthood of Jesus and all those who committed themselves in a particular way to this ministry. From our birth until we say good bye to this earthly life priestly ministry plays a vital role. 

A priest is not for himself but for others. God is the center and focus of his life. A priest is chosen and blessed and broken are given to a whole little world for its life.  He no longer belongs to himself. The profound meaning of our priesthood is that you are “given”,  given to others for their life. 

Finally, my dear friends, Eucharist is not a private party of anyone. Eucharistic meal makes sense only if it is linked to a passion, to redemption – our own and others. It bears fruit when we become Eucharist for the life of the world, when we become “really present” to someone’s Calvary, when we become people filled with Christ’s life that the eyes of the desperate light up with hope, the bellies of the starving are fed with bread, the hearts of the loveless beat with love, and if someone who has no reason for living discovers it in Christ. This is what I wish each one of you today. Amen. 

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

Maundy Thursday (09 April 2020)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Are We the Masters of Our Destiny?

(Photo courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)

In the wake of prevailing precarious situation in the world and the way we as humanity as a whole have been behaving on this planet, one question that has been bothering me for a while is this: "Are we masters of our destiny?"  Until recently, each one planned for himself or herself. Certainty was the truth. Permanent and perpetual growth of our economies and intellectual world seem to be a natural phenomena. But this understanding of progressive logic has not only tilted but crumbled terribly. Until other day, we thought we have answers for everything. From atheist scientists to militant so called "intellectual atheists" like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., who claimed and propagated no God theory at least now will not be fascinated by their followers. 

What Corona virus has made us is to realize that nothing is stronger in front of this killer bug. Neither the white race nor black nor brown race, neither the European nor the Asian  nor the American could withstand in front of the onslaught of this Corona pandemic. If we are not careful and if we are unable to find a suitable vaccine within a stipulated time Corona destroyer has the capacity to wipe out the whole human race. We do not need nuclear wars, gas chambers or missiles or man made wars to annihilate us. Even before we could warm this planet and destroy this earth, we could be destroyed completely and unexpectedly.

As this bug continuous to mutate from one environment to another, from one person to another, migrate from human to animal, our capacity to grasp the magnanimity of this epidemic is simply ungraspable. Our ability to find a suitable medicine is not only taking time but also feeling helpless and tired. Therefore, this question: Where are we moving now in this new world order where this Corona bug is thrusting such a strain on humanity?

We are made to ask more often than ever age old  existential questions: Questions about our life, its meaning and significance, about its existence, about our futurity as a whole. Existential philosophy which tries to answer our human life questions and in a way thought to have understood that it has all the answers for our inquisitiveness, with this new world wide illness we seem to be having more questions than answers, more troubles than ever, more queries than prepared solutions. 

By his very nature, human person does not want to surrender. Being surrendered means allowing oneself to be tempted of what he is not. If one is tempted to surrender means that he is abdicating or concealing his personality to fall and disappear in the void. The existential philosopher Martin Heidegger puts it well man's littleness, finiteness, "Man wants to surrender to the world. He tempts himself. He flees from himself and desires to fall into the world. In his everyday talking and curiosity he prepares for himself a permanent temptation to fallenness." In other words, we are in a whirlwind of inescapability. Perhaps in our present scenario it could either death or lost in void on this earth what we call life.

The more you flee yourself from what you are, what you are capable of and not capable of, you are put in a void or emptiness. Because human person in himself is incapable to finding meaning. He has to hang on to something outside of him, outside of his emptiness. The eschatological message of the New Testament is this "now and not yet". Jesus would say "In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.” (Jn 16:16). The paradox of life continues. The destiny of man as the master of this world is once again threatened.

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

07 April 2020

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Let Us Face the Reality of the Cross

Palm Sunday: Readings: Matthew 21: 1-11; Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66
(Jesus riding on a donkey in Jerusalem)

An Eventful Week
Palm Sunday is an eventful celebration in the Church's liturgical calendar. Indeed, we have reached the climax of the liturgical year, the highest peak of salvation history, when all that has been anticipated and promised is to be fulfilled. This Sunday prepares us for a very important week in the Lenten Season, that is Holy Week. This memorable week begins with Jesus triumphantly entering the city of Jerusalem, the Holy City of Jews, the seat of King David, the City of God.  There in that city of Holy Temple, Jesus would receive the death sentence from Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea. Jesus would carry the Cross until that mountain of Calvary and would die a terrible death of shame, pain and alienation. And finally, he would rise up as resurrected Christ.

There are three things that are very clear from the scriptural readings that we have today.

1. Identity of Jesus is clarified and endorsed
Jesus no more asks here, "who do people say that the Son of Man is? (Matt 16:13) People themselves shout with joy who that Jesus is for them. "Hosanna for the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mt 21:9). People have seen what he has done for them, healing the blind, cleansing the lepers, driving out demons, raising the dead to life, feeding the hungry, calming the storms, blessing the children, pardoning the sinners, clarifying the laws of Moses, touching the untouchables and wiping the tears of so many, including the excluded, showing the mercy of God and justice of the One who sent him.  He is beyond any other prophets of the day. He is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah, and others.

In order to fulfil what the prophets have said about Jesus, he takes up a donkey to ride and enter the Holy City of Jerusalem. Jesus enters the power house of the Romans and of erstwhile Jewish kings by riding on a humble animal, donkey. That too, which did not belong either to Jesus or to his disciples. 

Every major event or journey of our life should begin with humble signs and symbols. You take up the position of power only when you are worthy to receive it. First be the person you are called to be, only then God will raise you up.

2. Jesus is met with mixed feelings of  love and hate even on the way to the Calvary
At one side we see the praise and glory of Jesus with people raising their voices with joy and the other the tensed moments at the last supper, and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. People made sure that Jesus had a trimphant entry into their city of blessings with all the festive fervour thinking that they would get some more benefits from Jesus. Looking for one's benefits and profit was in people's mind including that of Judas Iscariot. Even the disciples did not seem to have understood the weight and seriousness of Jesus' words at the Last Supper including the conversation between Jesus and his betraying disciple (Mt 26:21-29).  Each one was busy with his own thought processing which left them blank at that momentous episode of their life, when Jesus established the Eucharist. 

People take you for granted when profit becomes the primary objective of their life. In His Passion, Jesus is “counted among the wicked,” ("numbered with the transgressors") as Isaiah had foretold (53:12). No profit, no deal is today's business mantra. Using people or a person merely as a means has deep rooted in the lives of many. The ills of today are a result of such an attitude of more the merrier. Judas Iscariot was ready to get money even at the cost of sending his guru, Jesus to the death on the cross. In the complexity and nitty gritty's of everyday life there are hard truths which we need to confront too. The eternal truths will continue to survive till the end of time. Neither Corona virus bug nor the human selfishness would take them away from us. Jesus is God's eternal truth manifested in the Eucharist. It is this sacrament that makes us one with Jesus in pain and peace, suffering and joy, life and death, in temporality and eternity, in disintegration and redemption. 

3. There is a way out in spite of failures and triumphs
Jesus' way of the cross symbolise both failures and successes. Mathew's Gospel is particular in demonstrating that life is a mixture of both good and bad. However, Jesus had to face the reality of the cross in spite of his divine-man-hood. Following the beaten path of the cross is painful and agonising. In the words of Prophet Isaiah "he is the suffering servant of Yahweh." In human terms, Jesus' mission was an utter failure. In a world where only success is counted and measured, who is ready to accompany people who are failures in life? Still there were people who come to bring comfort to Jesus - his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, mother of the sons of Zebedee, his close disciple John, women and children of Jerusalem, Simon the Cyrian, etc.   People do remember the person of Jesus and what he meant for them in their lives.

Jesus also goes through sense of emptiness when his close disciple denies him three times, another one betrays him and sends him to death. In other words, practically all the disciples abandoned Jesus. The sense of utter abandonment which he experienced at Gethsemane becomes real on the way to the Calvary. And yet, a foreigner, a centurion having witnessed what happened at the mountain called  Skull exclaims "Truly this man was God's Son" (Matthew 27: 54).

God is present in our failures and triumphs. Even though, we may feel God has abandoned us yet there is some force that keeps us pushing forward and make things happen. Jesus felt all these things still he was able to carry the cross and die on that cross. That was his mission to fulfil the scriptures and bring salvation to the humanity. “All this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Matthew 26:56). By the end of today’s long Gospel, the work of our redemption will have been accomplished, the new covenant will be written in the blood of His broken body hanging on the cross. People come into our life like Simon the Cyrene, women and children of Jerusalem, disciple John, mother Mary, Mary Magdeline, etc., who help us to carry the cross. God does not abandon us instead God sends angels of good time to be with us. That is how God manifests to us that He is still labouring with us and in us. This is possible by confronting the reality of the cross. 

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

Palm Sunday (05 April 2020)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Making Life Beautiful in a Time of Home Quarantine

(Photo courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)
We live by our habits. When those habits which have become integral part of our life are disintegrated then we feel ourselves lost and confused. This must have been our experience during these 15 days of lock down. 

When we live our life fully and beautifully there is a great sense of satisfaction and joy. We feel life is worth living. When we were put under voluntary house arrest on the 15th of March 2020, in order to keep ourselves sane, safe and heathy, we must have gone through this fear of contamination of Corona virus. As we notice steady increase of virus infection figures at the end of this month of March we feel satisfied and happy and courageous, because life is still tickling.

Perhaps, I could ask these following questions?
1. How am I living Covid-19 break?
2. What is that keeps me going in my everyday boredom of sitting in my apartment or house?
3. How can I make my life interesting and beautiful during these days of continuous lockdown?

I have a few tips that have been helping me to keep myself occupied and feel useful and grateful.

1. Keeping God center of my life: When I think about this dreaded Corona virus, you have no other option than falling at your knees and say "Lord! Let Your Will be Done". When frustration and distress engulfs us only the source of strength and courage is God. Before our human finiteness only Divine infinite goodness could fill us with unbridled hope. We could do this by reading the Bible (if you find it difficult to read, take the audio Bible reading which is available here, listen to it and you read along). Spiritual reading would be another idea. Pick up a book and simply read it and put a target as how many pages you would love to read per day.

2. Look for fresh areas of life: Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007), the former Archbishop of Paris, France a Jewish convert to Catholicism seems to have said in times of crises and hopelessness focus your energy on fresh areas. If you have been too much involved in your work and trying to earn as much as possible without much rest and time for your family or partner, now you can think about your relationships with others. You could spend your time in putting an order in your room, house, lot more time in cleaning your house, apartment, compound or surroundings; Spending time with the family members not simply sitting around with mobiles in your hand or TV running infront of you for 16 hours of the day, but a quality time with your own people. Meanwhile, this is the time to forgive those  people who have hurt us and if we have hurt others then pray for their well being. Let freshness enter your caged life at least during this time of uncertainty.

3. Think and do something around your vicinity: Until now I must have been thinking about my work, my family, my kids, my compound, my home. But now it's a time to think about others, my neighbours, those whom we know who are far away, who must be in need of some comfort and words of consolation. Perhaps your phone call might help a lot in rekindling joy of life -joie de vivre.  If you have not spoken with your neighbour for a long time, it's time to call them or talk to them keeping in mind the distance.  We can spread the fragrance of love and harmony in place of Corona and apprehension.

4. Try to learn something new: We are caught up in a strange world where nothing is sure including our life tomorrow with this Corona virus. However, our life is a long journey of learning and unlearning, being and becoming! As my professor of Latin in Gregorian University, Rome would put it bluntly, "Life is short, Latin is long, start today!" There is nothing which is late to start learning. Everything has a beginning. And a thousand miles journey begins with a first step. So why not learn something new or something that you had started sometime ago and then stopped due to time constrains? Now is the time to unpack your talents and unused energies. For example, learning a musical instrument, doing the painting, working in the garden or doing something with the flower pots that you might be having in your house which require attention. Try to develop taste for something which helped the humanity to develop a great culture of music. Listening to classical music is much more soothing for your brain cells than your binge music. Here are the applications that you can hear for free online classical music: KDFC, BR  Klassik, etc.

5. Remaining positive: Until now, my concentration must have been more of "Having" than "Being". If I am harbouring enormous negative energy then now is the time to be positive. Let all the negative thoughts about people, relationships, things, affairs of the world, may go away from us. Let only the positive energy be our guide and come to us. Especially during this time when we are flooded with so many negative WhatsApp messages and how the situation of Covid -19 lockdown is affecting us and others so badly, being vigilant is essential to skip from this whirlwind of negativity. Let us be positive first and foremost about myself and think that God will show a new way to live our life in this tragic moment of our times. Here I am not alone but everybody on the face of the earth is threatened and intimidated. Until now I must have concentrated on "having more" but now on I'll try to concentrate on "Being More." Moreover, "Being More" will certainly will help me once this threat of Corona virus is gone and back to our normal life.

To skip from negativity, we could do something special in the morning when we spend a few minutes in prayer:

1. At the end of the prayer, I make a little commitment or resolution for the day and pray for the grace to fulfil it. I would not like to be negative towards others, or will not read anything that has to do with negativity. I'll try to avoid hearing negativity from others and even if I hear I will see to that I behave as if I have not heard it all. I do this commitment for few days until it becomes a habit of my life.

2. I take a commitment during my prayer on another day. I would be appreciative of someone in my family, neighbour or anythings else. I appreciate with words, (adjectives), actions and thoughts. I pray for such people. Even if someone is negative about me still I'll not utter a word against that person.

The above exercises could be done in order to help oneself in becoming «Being More» area of life, thus we can root out anger, anxiety, laziness, jealousy, etc. Believe that everything comes by practice and habit. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) of the fame “Brothers of Karamazov” wrote so emphatically “only beauty can save the world”, «Красота спасет мир». In the wretchedness of everyday life of suffering, sickness, senselessness, and death, lifting one’s eyes up and see the divine beauty in and around us and God’s creation will certainly will  help to make a difference to live a life happy, joyful as well as beautiful.

Life is beautiful. Let's make it now!

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

01 April 2020