Life Skills

Life Skills

NO GREATER LOVE

AUGUST 17

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to MISSION COMPLETE

While thirty-two International Teams were battling it out in state-of-the-art stadiums in Russia for close to a month for the prestigious 21st edition of the quadrennial WORLD CUP 2018, twelve young Thai football players from the “MOO PA” (Wild Boars) football team, along with their coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, were struggling for survival. They were trapped on 23rd June inside a dingy and cold six-mile long Tham Luang cave in the treacherous Doi Nang Non mountain range.  Termed as “Mission Impossible,” the 17-day ordeal to rescue the youngsters, definitely gripped the attention of the world.  Ninety expert SEAL divers—40 from Thailand and 50 from other nations—as well as thousands of paramedics and volunteers, battled against time and inclement weather conditions. SEAL divers braved rising waters and manoeuvred through dangerous labyrinth-like tunnels to rescue the players and their coach. “Mission Complete” on 10th July 2018 on Thai Navy SEALS Facebook page stated, “We are not sure if this is a miracle, science or what. All the 13 Wild Boars are now out.”

In the midst of all this jubilation and celebration of courage and hope, one cannot forget the sacrifice made by a thirty-eight-year-old Thai navy SEAL diver, Saman Gunan. “He completed his task of delivering three oxygen tanks, but lost consciousness on his return trip, as his ran out of oxygen” reported a Thai SEAL. No greater love than one laying down his life for another. This is the miracle of the Tham Luang cave rescue. SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookonkaew rightly stated, “We won’t let the life lost be wasted. In his death, they found greater courage and determination in the next three days to change “Mission Impossible” to “Mission Complete.” His wife, Waleeporn Gunan, summed up her husband’s life in these words, “He loved helping others…

 


Fr. Glenford Lowe SDB

read more
Life Skills

‘A CHILD IN CASSOCK’:

no thumb

Tribute to a Man with a Big Heart, a Ready Smile and Severe Illness

Magnets by their very nature attract. Magnetic fields display a certain aura of strength all around without crossing paths. Without hurting the other, a magnet draws it to itself. A human magnet draws people through goodness, love and a joyful spirit. Such was a dear friend who died recently.

Not too often would the passing away of a priest make such an impact on family and friends. Fr. Lloyd Rodrigues SDB passed away peacefully on 15th May 2018 at the Karuna Hospital, Borivili, Mumbai. He was a human magnet that drew others to God through his charismatic personality and by his very cheerful demeanour.

I have often contributed articles to Magnet citing examples of personalities that made a difference in society. This time, I feel the need of paying tribute to Fr. Lloyd and draw life-skill lessons from his simple yet profound journey.

An Early Connect

Lloyd and I were second cousins, and as family, we met on various occasions. He often came across as a fun-filled lad who brought a smile on every face. His sense of humour was a gift he freely shared. We connected again at Don Bosco School, Lonavala, moving ahead now from family to the wider Salesian Family. Our paths in life diverted when I opted as a young priest for the missions of Africa and he went to the rural missions of Ahmednagar.

Our paths intertwined twenty-two years later when I donated my right kidney to him on 26th July 2011. Prior to the surgery, a youngster interviewed me with this question, “How painful would the surgery and post-operative time be?” I responded very candidly…

 

To read the entire article, click  Subscribe


Fr Glenford Lowe SDB

read more
Life Skills

Education: Ten Tips for a Great New Academic Year

JUNE 1

I was invited for a Hindi movie recently. It was an offer I willingly declined at first. I really wasn’t too excited. I know the storyline of any Bollywood movie. The songs, the dances, the colour, the costumes, the same old sequence between hero and heroine. But, I was assured that Hichki would be different. The story centres around an aspiring teacher, Naina Mathur (played by Rani Mukerji), and a batch of fourteen unruly 9th class students in an elite school.

“There are no bad students, only bad teachers,” Naina says off the cuff. Life was hard on her. She suffers from Tourette Syndrome (TS), a neurological disorder that causes repetitive and involuntary movements or ‘tic’ noises. Despite this embarrassing medical condition  which neither the management nor the students understand, Naina is determined to be a teacher—and a good one.  At home, her life revolves around her ever-dominating father with his own dream for Naina, the silent presence of her mother and a charming brother at her side to comfort her. At school the dynamics are more hostile! She must face the ruthless slum kids with their annoying behaviour, and the ridicule and jealousy by the elite management of the prestigious St. Notker’s school. The movie has its twists and turns. The great turn is in the lives of the fourteen kids! Naina and the kids make the classroom a playground of inner transformation.

You and I can do the same. How?

Education is real when it is inclusive, inspiring and introspective. Education must be a level-playing ground where all are treated as one. Teacher Naina reaches out to those students on the periphery and challenges them to compete with the very best. The marginalised ones accept the challenge and out-beat the others. A quote from the movie puts us in the right perspective, Ek aam teacher padhata hai … ek acha teacher samjhata hai …. Bahut acha teacher ho toh khud karke batata hai … lekin kuch teachers hote hai joh humein inspire karke jaate hai zindagi bhar ke liye (“An ordinary teacher teaches… a good teacher explains … a very good teacher shows an example by doing it himself… but there are some teachers who inspire us for our entire life!”)

No Student a Failure:

The scholastic year 2018-19 has started. The SSC/HSC results have been declared. The successful ones were embraced with smiles, sweets and songs. Those who ‘failed’ faced shame, scorn and shouts. Ten years of education and to be told you didn’t make it, labelled for ever a ‘failure’—what a parody! In ancient Greece, Socrates argued that education was about drawing out what was already within the student. (As many of you know, the word education comes from the Latin e-ducere, meaning “to draw out”). Ten years of ‘drawing out’ and to find out that there was nothing that could be drawn out! Empty from the start. Education can never be measured by written exams backed up by the curriculum, assessments, classroom arrangement, books and computers. Hichki again has a beautiful quote to reflect upon: School ke bahar jab zindagi imtihaan leti hai…toh subject wise nahi leti… (“Outside of school, when life takes an exam, it doesn’t do it subject-wise!”)

 We often marginalize students because of their intellectual capacity, their social status and economic background. No student is empty from the start. There is an abundant wellspring, a sleeping giant, an unpolished diamond that dwells within every student. Education is about drawing that out. Failing to draw that out is failure on the part of the educator. Eric Hoffer rightly says: “The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” As religious, we run the best schools in the country! But sadly, we run the risk of running after ‘success in examinations’ rather than creating a society of learners whose minds are open and dare to question the ‘why’ and the ‘why not’?

A NEW WAY OF EDUCATING:

Classrooms can easily become prisons rather than palaces, agony more than ecstasy, and above all institutions for conformity rather than a home for growth. A third of a student’s day is desk-bound. Education is more a matter of the heart than an intellectual quest to satisfy. Based on the movie Hichki, here are a few tips to make your classroom a playground of inner goodness:

  1. Make the classroom a home:

Manage with the mind, but lead with the heart. Know that the sacred lives of the students have been entrusted into your care. Know them by name rather than by a number on the roll call. Students don’t care how much you know. They want to know how much you care!!! Love makes the classroom a home.

  1. Be fair, not partial:

Be fair! It’s not easy. Treat all students fairly. You are their teacher; you rightly belong to everyone. Be all inclusive. But, at the same time, befriend the ‘difficult’ ones. They are the ones who need you most.

  1. Deal with disruptions lovingly:

Students will always be students. They will—without malice-disrupt and distract your class. Remember: A rebellious student is an insecure student. Find time after class to give attention to them by building confidence in them by ‘giving a word in the ear.’ Correct them with love. A small word can transform the climate of your class and school. Don Bosco, the great educator, believed in the power of the ‘word in the ear.’

  1. Deal with discipline issues privately:

The classroom must be a second home—not a battle ground for winners and losers. Order and discipline is necessary in your class. Be human and deal with discipline issues privately than cause a student to ‘lose face’ in front of his/her friends.

  1. Use humour, not sarcasm:

Poor teachers confuse good humour with sarcasm. While humour can quickly diffuse a situation, sarcasm may harm your relationship with the students. Use your best judgment, but realize that what some people consider funny, others may find offensive.

  1. Motivate for excellence:

Students are not stupid. They are only sleeping giants. Trigger the need for excellence and draw out

the best in each student. Mediocrity is never a benchmark. Be a coach, not a referee!

  1. Use time and space creatively:

Let your classroom be a learning laboratory. Remember your kindergarten days…. Learning is maximum in an atmosphere of fun and creativity. Text books limit creativity. Technology has shortened the learning timespan. Students have more time on their hands. Invest in creative activity – even beyond the walls of the classroom!

  1. Create a family spirit:­

Develop collaborate rather than competitive learning. Invite the bright students to adopt a weaker

student. To go higher, students need to learn to pick up the other.

  1. Make rules understandable:

Every rule defends a value. Let students know why a rule is set in place. Purposeful students are open to learn better. You play the parent figure. Help the student to know that discipline is not the enemy of freedom. Make no compromises when it comes to discipline. There is freedom in discipline!

  1. Give primacy to God:

All learning is futile if, at the end of the day, we do not become more loving human beings. While we feed the intellect, we need to nourish the heart and the soul. Have a primacy for God in your life and your students too will become more God-loving. Your classroom must create a sense of the sacred and a respect for people of all faiths and religious traditions.

What difference will you make to your students in 2018-2019? May it be beautiful and lasting.


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

RETREAT: QUALITY ‘SPIRITUAL ME-TIME’

MAY 16

It is super easy to just run away, to take the easier path, to abandon the purpose you were created for. But then, remember, what we run away from comes back again, bigger and stronger–while we continue to be the midget all along.

When was the last time you hid behind a closed door? Ashamed, frightened, tear-eyed? Recall the last episode when you walked away from a difficulty or a failure. Walking away from failure never evolved into a success storyline. Running away from something in a moment of crisis, is no guarantee that you will conquer it. Victory is not a reward for a lone faint-hearted runaway. I remember reading a quote, ‘Running away from problems is a race you will never win.’ And yet, this is the story of many of us. We are more solitary runaways-from-life. Is there a healthier way to rescript the story of your life? Yes, there is! Take the time not to run ‘away from,’ but rather ‘run to’ the solutions that are always there before you! Decide it’s time to face yourself, to review your past and reorganize your future. We call this experience a Retreat–a privileged time to get back to move forward.

RETREAT: A SPIRITUAL TIME

Emile Durkheim, a twentieth century sociologist, called this moment as a ‘Spiritual Time.’ Every religion, I believe, proposes these opportune moments in one’s life to face the reality of where we are and how we are on the journey of life. We ask ourselves, “Why does my journey need to have a spiritual time?” Or still further, “Can I really do without this spiritual time?”

Richard Layard, a British economist, while making a study on ‘Happiness,’ concluded that our personal happiness is directly proportionate to our level of relationships. The deepest of all relationships is falling in love with the Divine. Jesus invites us time and time again, “Remain in my Love!” In the humdrum of everyday life, we are invited to slow down, to look and reflect on our spiritual lives and to restructure our future in the light of our connections with the divine. Offering yourself some Spiritual Time is the best gift you can give yourself.

RETREAT: A VACATION WITH THE LORD

In 1986, as a young student of theology, I remember reading a book, Retreat: A Vacation with the Lord by Thomas Green SJ. The title fascinated me. It said it all. In today’s language, it would be called Retreat: A Selfie with God, or Retreat: A Yatra with God, or Retreat: Spiritual Sight-seeing. Just as we take time out to relax ourselves physically and emotionally, we need to find time for such ‘Spiritual rest’ where we can refill our depleted reservoirs with spiritual grace to face the journey of life. For me, Jesus is the master retreatant! He constantly got back to move forward. He set aside each day–early in the morning, or late at night–personal moments to be with His Abba. He wasn’t running away from, rather, he was running to the One who could assure Him of being the Beloved of the Father. This prime Abba-time was a privileged moment to be loved and feel loved. Surely, it was a holiday with a difference. Every divine touch changes the earthly reality around it.

SILENCE: an ESSENTIAL ENVIRONMENT

All of life grows in silence. Noise fragments and distracts. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI rightly said, “Our age does not, in fact, favour reflection and contemplation; quite the contrary. It seems that people are afraid to detach themselves, even for an instant, from the spate of words and images which mark and fill our days. We need to stop, to experience moments of intimacy with God, ‘detaching ourselves’ from the turmoil of daily life to listen, to return to the root which nourishes and sustains our existence.” Sadly, a few religious too fall into this trap! Without befriending silence, there is no real prayer or retreat. As religious, we feverishly minister for the Lord, and may forget the Lord of our ministry.

PRAYER: The Communion of Hearts

People accuse us religious of taking our annual retreats for granted. Is there some truth in this? What a privilege to be blessed with an entire week to be by ourselves and with the Lord who calls us! Any lay person would have loved to have an entire week for a retreat, but work schedules (and finances) often do not permit it. A Retreat is a time to reconnect with the divine, to be taken into the desert and to be lured by God. Hosea 2:14 puts is so well, “I the Lord, will lure you into the desert and I will win you back with words of love.” When our conversations with the Lord slowly blend into silent contemplation, we experience this ‘communion of hearts’. St. Augustine sums it up in his famous statement, “Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they will not rest, until they rest in you!” It is also true that retreats attract restlessness. We wrestle with ourselves: our past, our failures, our relationships, our vows, our community, our mission, our future. He who called us knows the ecology of our heart condition. No heart is too soiled not to be loved by the Lord! Allow God to sync your heart with His. Deep prayer moments get you there.

SCRIPTURE: FOOD for the JOURNEY

I don’t remember any retreat where Scripture didn’t have its rightful place. God is Word! Retreat is not a time to indulge in books of fiction or motivational recipes. I find two things that go side by side in my retreat: my Bible and my personal diary. The values of the Bible must flow into my diary. When I realise that my personal story is deviating from the gospel compass, then a retreat becomes an important moment to retrace my path back to gospel values. There is no better ‘soul food’ for the journey than the Word of God. Scripture was never given to us to be studied by heart, it was meant to be a guiding compass that navigates our life through the storms and struggles, as well as the serene and the peaceful landmarks on our journey. The Eucharist ought to be the central point of every day. What a privilege to sit at table around the Lord–to be nourished by His Word and Body!

RESOLUTION: A New Way of Being

If we were to take our retreats seriously, we would all come out with a Halo! We lack ‘spiritual will.’ The urgency for holiness seems to be out of our bucket list. We postpone being good for another year. Conversion is for our last days. We are complacent with our mediocre religious lifestyle; our moral compass continues to be broken and our quest for spiritual renewal is lacking right from the start. If we were to take an honest look at ourselves, we would make resolutions to become more Christlike. Without this honest introspection, we continue to become Christless. As religious in our country, we are a huge number to reckon with. It took a small band of apostles to change the world. Retreats offer us the opportunity to ‘return to our first love,’ to be spiritually charged once again with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to be passionate about being another Christ.

MARY: Mother and Model

Pope Francis was right when he said, “A religious who is not under the mantle of Mary, is an orphaned religious.” Gifted to us from the cross, Mary is the one we need to model our lives on. She is the ‘paradigm of all religious.’ “Be with us, Mary, along the way” is more than just a pious lyric in a hymn. It is an invitation, and a prayer!

Retreat is a Spiritual moment to run to the Divine, to contemplate in silence, to sync our heart with the Divine, to be nourished with Soul Food at the Eucharist and from Scripture, to become more Christlike and to be sheltered under the loving mantle of Mary. What more would you expect from this retreat package–a vacation with the Divine? The result, we come out as Spiritual Giants to face the world.


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

Our Call: Unique, Beautiful and Demanding

April 04

“What on earth am I here for?” Life has meaning and purpose when we stretch beyond the ‘clock of routine’ and engage our lives on a ‘Divine agenda.’ We were never created to merely drift and coast on the sands of time. God has created us for greater purposes. Rick Warren, in his best seller, Purpose Driven Life, offers paradigm-shift solutions to a battery of questions we keep asking ourselves. Paramahansa Yogananda writes in Man’s Eternal Quest, “The initiative to undertake your most important duty in life is often buried beneath the accumulated debris of human habits.”  Socrates, the renowned Greek philosopher, puts it plainly, “An unreflected life is not worth living.”

Inspired lives are those of people who stepped out of the ordinary. They stretched the limits of their existence to a higher realm of living meaningfully. In simple words, they found their true CALLING in life and responded to it with a clarity of purpose and a generosity of heart. Every Vocation is a unique ‘Call’ offered by God to each individual. All of us, therefore, rightfully have a vocation story to live. It’s not just about a Mother Teresa or a Martin Luther King, nor is it about the Mahatma Gandhi or a John Paul II. When I, as an individual, align myself to become the blueprint that the Master Creator has set in place for me, then, I have truly lived my Vocation in life.

Evelyn Waugh, in Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane memories of Captain Charles Ryder, presents a beautiful conversation between Cordelia and Charles:

Cordelia: I hope I’ve got a vocation.

Charles: I don’t know what that means.

Cordelia: It means you can be a nun. If you haven’t a vocation, it’s no good however much you want to be; and if you have a vocation, you can’t get away from it, however much you hate it.”

We fulfil our Vocation by living lovingly, joyfully and generously in our chosen setting—Priesthood, Religious, Married or Single Life. Vocation is not primarily about which group we join or what work we will do, but about holiness of life. Just staying in is not the meaning of persevering in one’s vocation. As Fr Pascual Chavez SDB, the former Superior General of the Salesians and a great authority on religious life, used to say, “Perseverance Is not the same as fidelity.”

Am I faithful to my vocation today? The answer is found in the way I live this day. Are my deeds, words, desires and decisions in line with what God wants me to do here and now? If so I am faithful. If not, I am staying in, but I am not faithful.

No one is left out of this invitation. It is wrong to say, “I never had a vocation.” Everyone has. Sadly, history tells us of many who chose the ‘abandonment of the call.’

Vocation is a life-long call and response—not just an event. Here are a few guidelines to help us along the journey.

  1. God’s Initiative is Paramount: The starting point is from God. God is the master-caller. A vocation is not my choice for God, but rather God’s choice for me. God calls me to be a priest, rather than I choosing to be a priest. The one called cannot place self over God’s agenda. Every vocation is therefore sacred and divinely blessed. The moment I place self over the Divine Caller, I trade my Vocation for a mere profession or career. The spotlight moves from God’s agenda to my own selfish motives.
  2. Faith is Essential: A faithless person cannot respond to God’s call. It takes faith to answer a call. Jonah wasn’t ready the first time the call came to him. Fear made him run away. Jonah was called a ‘second time.’ His first call was shrouded in total fear. Faith enables us to answer the call more readily and freely. A vocational crisis begins the moment we replace faith with fear! If ‘Formators’ are not persons of deep faith, the whole discernment process becomes blurred by fear and the formee is often left in the dark tunnel of perpetual doubt!
  3. God’s Agenda is our Mission: Every Vocation is for a particular mission. To respond to our vocation, we need to sync our will with the Divine will. When God calls us, he wires us with a heart to listen to his voice and to follow His will. God’s agenda is always for peace, justice, love and righteousness and the advancement of His people and world. Any disconnect from God’s agenda will makes us instruments of war, injustice, hate, and a broken humanity and world. Our Vocation is to become ‘Harvesters’ in God’s abundant fields.
  4. Each Vocation is Unique: My ‘calling’ is my calling! It’s not given to another. No one else can respond for me. Moses wanted his brother Aaron to stand in for him. Jeremiah wanted someone older to replace his youthful self. Our human limitations are never criteria for God to take away the call from us. He calls us mortals and ordinary people to make an extraordinary journey. Pope Benedict tells us, “Each one of you has a personal vocation which He has given you for your own joy and sanctity. When a person is conquered by the fire of His gaze, no sacrifice seems too great to follow Him and give Him the best of ourselves. This is what the saints have always done, spreading the light of the Lord and transforming the world into a welcoming home for all.”
  5. Motivations Need Purification: At times, our motivations in responding to God’s call must be purified along the journey. Choosing to sit by the right and left side of the throne of God was a wrong motivation in following Jesus. Formation and moments of proper discernment are essential to purify our intentions. Thomas Merton, the great mystic, writes in No Man is an Island, “For each of us there is only one thing necessary: to fulfil our destiny, according to God’s will—to be what God wants us to be.”
  6. Soul Friends to Discern with You: Every vocational response, be it priestly, religious, married or single, goes through a ‘crisis stage.’ Doubts set in. The journey seems difficult and ‘walking out’ seems the easier option. My own priestly journey had similar difficult times. The heart gets passionless, the mind gets visionless and the mission seems to be a boring exercise! In such moments, the presence of ‘soul friends’ play a very important role. Talk it over, seek counsel, be open to rediscover your ‘first calling.’ Discernment and prayerful support are two essentials wings to keep one from falling apart.

Finally, all Vocations are sacred and unique. Priesthood or religious life is not higher than marriage. We are all called to holiness of life! Whoever lives a life close to God and fulfils God’s plans, is faithful to one’s vocation and contributes best.

An inspiring man whose life journey has galvanized the world can throw light on our vocation journey. This is what Pope Francis says in his message for Vocation Sunday 2018:

The joy of the Gospel, which makes us open to encountering God and our brothers and sisters, does not abide our slowness and our sloth.  It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision.  Vocation is today!  The Christian mission is now!  Each one of us is called–whether to the lay life in marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration–in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now.”


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

The Way FROM the Cross:

March 06

Seven Ultimate Gifts

The Crib and the Cross are central. Every liturgical year, the Church invites us to revisit the Crib at Christmas and the Cross at Lent. Bethlehem and Calvary are not just geographical landmarks in the life of Jesus. They are the two poles of the ‘Christian Magnet’ that attract us to the life and gospel of Jesus.

A Journey of Discoveries: The Ultimate Gift

To understand better the lessons from the Cross, I thought it useful to look at The Ultimate Gift, a best seller by Jim Stovall. The plot revolves around the last will by Howard Stevens – an oil tycoon – and his wayward, selfish and reckless grandson Jason Stevens. To earn the grandfather’s inheritance, Jason is invited to perform twelve tasks that would eventually become a journey of discoveries.  These twelve simple tasks known as ‘gifts’ were: work, money, friends, learning, problems, family, laughter, dreams, giving, gratitude, a day and finally the ultimate gift ‘love’ that resulted in a better and more focused Jason. Not too often do ‘tasks’ become ‘gifts.’ When our perspective of life changes, then, our performance on life also takes on a new course. Life becomes more meaningful and significant.

On Calvary, Jesus gave us ‘seven tasks’ for a life-time salvific project! This Lenten season, I feel it best to focus on the seven gifts FROM the cross—Jesus’ seven words of eternal wisdom on Calvary’s apparent deathbed.

Calvary’s Apparent Deathbed: Eternal Gifts

At Calvary, Love is best personified. “No greater love than one lay down his life for another.” The great commandment of love was not just a temple discourse by Jesus. Calvary was his lasting pulpit to speak eternal words of wisdom. Normally, during the Lenten season, we devoutly make the Way OF the CROSS.

I would like to suggest we change our perspective. This Lenten season, lets make the ‘Way FROM the CROSS’. St. Paul would strongly affirm, “With Christ, I hang upon the Cross.”  It’s FROM the cross that our perspective changes drastically.  The seven words FROM the Cross—when accepted as a ‘gift’ – will make our daily marketplace a different terrain to live and love our faith.

Here are the seven ultimate gifts we need to share with self and others:

  1. THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS: Even Google has many more entries on Forgiveness (7,84,00,000 results) than Unforgiveness (9,09,000 results). No person other than Jesus spoke so openly on Forgiveness. His parables, his table-conversations, his temple discourses on forgiveness reaches its peak on Calvary: “Father, forgive them, for they no know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). We can only discover the power of forgiveness when we gift Forgiveness to others, no matter what the cost! Forgiveness sets us free, it reduces the pain, it rebuilds the broken relationships, it empowers the forgiver!

While forgiveness is mostly other-directed, we need at times to gift is to self. Self-directed forgiveness is essential. We find it so difficult to forgive ourselves. We can’t accept our social status, our economic situations, our psychological well-being, our intellectual capacities and capabilities, our spiritual experiences. We surround ourselves with layers of unforgiveness. We become bitter, hurtful and cynical. The key to a better self is simply to forgive self. Forgiveness is the first gift you need to share with self and others.

  1. THE GIFT OF PARADISE: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). The thief held on to what did not belong to him. Stealing was his profession, and here he was literally ‘dying’ for it. He stole paradise too. Rightly put, he was gifted paradise! Paradise simply means a garden, a place of timeless harmony, a place of pure happiness. Only Jesus could gift ‘paradise’ with such benevolence. We at times do the opposite. “I’ll make sure I create hell for you”, is an often-heard threat.  The way FROM the Cross invites me to gift Paradise to the other even amid my own agony. For Jesus, Paradise was a gift too dear to be delayed for tomorrow. His gift was given ‘today.’  Can I, like Jesus, create opportunities in my home or in my institution to offer Paradise rather than create hell?
  2. THE GIFT OF RELATIONSHIPS: “Son, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son” (Jn 19:25-27). Our God is highly relational, and so are we humans. None of us can live alone. We were created for others. Our meaning comes from being with others. The deepest of all relationship is that of a mother-child. Today, both motherhood and childhood are two important stages of life that are threatened, and their very basic rights denied. The gift of relationships ensures more than just a safe abode. Home is where one can truly belong with no pretence or shame. Home is where one can grow and mature. With the ‘gift of beholding mother and son’, home becomes a sacred space for interconnectedness. Suffering unites mother and son, but it also sanctifies the relationship.
  3. THE GIFT OF SPIRITUAL ABANDONMENT: “My God, my God, why has thou abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34, Mt 27:46). In life, there is no lonelier moment than to be abandoned! With no support systems we crumble under the pain of loneliness. His mother has already been gifted to the beloved disciple. “Where is the Father now? Why is God so silent? Where is God when bad things happen to good people? Wasn’t I the beloved son of the Father?” It takes ‘spiritual abandonment’ to believe that I am part of God’s love story. God’s silence at Calvary was no indication of his absence, but rather, it was like the silence experienced when two lovers are in deep embrace. On the cross, the Father was in a deep loving embrace with Jesus. In our darkest moments, God embraces us with silence. It’s not words, but silence that comforts us more. In faith, I trust my story will not end here in pain. God’s embrace, though silent, speaks louder than mere words.
  4. The Gift of Passion: “I Thirst” (Jn 19:28). Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Passionate people thirst till the end. No pain or challenge prevents them from their life’s mission. Jesus’ thirst here is not for physical water. His last breath was still mission-focused. Don Bosco would say, “I have promised God that until my last breath I shall have lived for my poor young people. For you I study, for you I work, for you I am ready to give up my life.” Commitment to our purpose in life takes us to our last breath. From the cross, Jesus teaches us that in life we keep ‘thirsting’ to fulfil our life’s purpose and passion.
  5. The Gift of Accomplishment: “It is Finished” (Jn 19:30). “Mission Unaccomplished” is the title of many lives. Along the journey we camp earlier than the destination point. Tired legs, visionless minds and passionless hearts surrender easily much before the finish line. Why journey all the road, when half-way is good enough? Calvary teaches us that no hill is too difficult to climb, no burden too hard to shoulder and no pain too hurting to endure.
  6. The Gift of Eternal Reunion: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Daily, we commit our lives into many unknown hands. Riding on a bus or a train, our lives are in the hands of unknown drivers. Dining at a restaurant or quenching our thirst along a dusty road, we commit our lives to potential unhealthy foods. Calvary opens a sure pathway to the Father who desires the best for each one of us. Can I trust my life into His loving hands? When our life’s journey is complete, we must be heaven-bound. This is where our eternal home is. The promise of an ‘Eternal Reunion’ is a gift we cannot chose to neglect.

This Lenten season, to understand and appreciate the seven gifts better, get in touch with the giver – Jesus the Christ! May we tread our way FROM His Cross.


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

FROM MEAN TO MEANINGFUL                       

13

Thousands of inspirational speeches have been delivered at commencement (convocation) ceremonies to motivate college graduates. One such speech was by David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College, Ohio. In his only public speech, he challenged the young minds, “Move away from thinking that you are the ‘absolute centre of the universe’. Somehow, this belief is our default setting, it’s hard-wired into our boards at birth!” He added, “Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that learning how to think really means how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Life is about being more compassionate.”

He continued with these FOUR words of wisdom:

  • If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.
  • Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.
  • Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.
  • Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Temptation to be Mean

We live in a highly competitive world. Our need to survive can at times, induce us to outdo the other at all costs. Malicious behaviour catches the eye faster than a meritorious one. Media rewards mean people with extra coverage. The suicide bomber, the murderer, the drug baron, the serial killer always gets the greatest attention. The silent compassionate good Samaritan is left out of the picture.

Lack of social skills, poor communication, pleasure-seeking attention, psychological disturbances, the need to dominate and control, highly reactive behaviours and poor self-image can often be the triggers that make a person become mean. When we choose to be mean, we lash out litanies of insults and unwarranted abusive language. Our inner landscape when filled with rage and anger overflows to an outer landscape making life miserable for ourselves and for others. Mean people are unhappy people. They blame God, society and the world for their pathetic state of life.

You can rescript your response to mean persons. You don’t have to be mean too. A quote I once read says it beautifully, “When someone is mean, don’t listen. When someone is rude, walk away. When someone tries to put you down, stay firm. Don’t let someone’s bad behaviour destroy your inner peace!” Mean people are hurting people because somewhere in the narrative of their lives, they have been hurt and abused by family and friends. Donald L. Hicks, author of Look into the Stillness, rightly says, “When someone would mistreat, misinform, misuse, misguide, mishandle, mislead…or any other ‘mis’…to others, they’re obviously missing something from their lives.” Just because some peoples’ lives are so fuelled with sad drama, you don’t have to give yourself permission to attend their performance. You don’t have to give yourself the right to hurt in return. Let their hurt stop with you. Redirect the compass of your life and make the choice to be meaningful rather than mean.

Meaningful Living

We all have the power within us to live our lives meaningfully. We can transcend the animal-world instinct of survival and hurting self and others. Life is never a challenge-free-journey. Joshua Marine rightly said, “Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” We walk through the corridors of this world but once. We can leave footprints of love and a legacy of purpose. How and where can I begin to live my life meaningfully? The questions we ask ourselves can be the first step in this direction.

  1. Who am I really below my skin? Get to know and face your true inner self. Your inner landscape cannot be hidden. When the mask you hide behind one day suddenly falls apart, would it surprise those around you? Let life’s experiences and lessons transform you from within. This is your ‘soul space’ and it will never betray you. We all nurture within this soul-space the person we always will be.
  2. What are the ‘defining moments’ in my life? There comes in everyone’s life a defining moment when things change forever. How do I navigate through the events, experiences and people I come across? Does the ‘spiritual’ define my life choices? When the ‘spiritual’ intervenes in the ‘physical and social’ spaces of my life, my life can take on a higher meaning and purpose. Without the spiritual, we can only live small defragmenting moments. God cannot be left out of the story of your life. To do so, would only end your story tragically.
  3. Am I living a ‘message-less life’? We all have a story to narrate, a song to sing, a quote to utter. My life cannot be a message-less one. Every action and every step are silent words people listen to. Meaningful lives are always inspiring ones We cannot go to the grave without a message for the world. Our voice needs to be heard and our life needs to inspire. The world’s story book has sufficient space to add our meaningful contribution. Leaving the world with just a blank page is no excuse at all.
  4. What enslaves me? We become what we surround ourselves with. When we surround ourselves with hurting people, we entrap ourselves with hatred, anger, frustration, pain and violence. Somehow, their personality gets below our skin and we begin to act and live like them. It takes courage to brake the bonds that enslave me with negativity and becoming a mean person. Taylor Smith sang it so well in the Song ‘Mean’ with these words:

I bet you got pushed around,

Somebody made you cold

But the cycle ends right now

‘Cause you can’t lead me down that road

You have to power to free yourself. You don’t have to be mean because they have been mean to you.

  1. Is my life ‘love-filled’? A meaningful life is always love-filled. When there is a scarcity of love, selfishness takes over and one’s life becomes a mean and hurting journey. Love never hurts, destroys or violates the other. Love builds, heals and purifies every intention and action. When your heart space is truly love-filled, you become an image of God. God is love, and you begin to radiate that Divine spark around. Earth becomes heaven and your presence brings life, light, faith, unity, gain, joy and health.

Lent: Move from Mean to Meaningful

Lent is about inner conversion, a change of heart that finds its expression in living meaningfully. Jesus was surrounded by a lot of mean people. He could have allowed their ‘mean-ness’ to flow into Him. But, he refused. I have often heard this sad remark, “You religious are so mean. You are so heartless and unkind!” How sad! In our apostolate, we too may be surrounded by a lot of ‘mean’ people, but this is no licence for us to become like them. Following just a ‘dietary penance’ in Lent will only help us shed a few unwanted pounds. Instead, we can move from “mean” to “meaningful.” We are not called to ‘return to dust’, but to become ‘images of the divine.’ What would be more meaningful than that?


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

START WELL, FINISH BETTER

01

Have you heard of the Olympic runner who was given the title, ‘The Greatest Last Place Finish in Modern Olympics’? Here is his touching story.

The world has witnessed thirty Modern Olympic Games so far since April 6,1896. Its motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius (Latin for ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’) has challenged the world’s best athletes to compete against one another for Gold, Silver and Bronze. Records are broken. New Champions emerge. Higher highs and faster speeds are set.

Among the thousands that have braved the stiff challenge of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, few have really made a difference on the Olympiad stage. Marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania was one who did. At the Mexico Olympic Games on October 20, 1968, he left a legacy that gave him the title, ‘The Greatest Last Place Finish in Modern Olympics’!

Seventy-four athletes took part in the gruelling forty-two-kilometre marathon race, the final event of the Mexico Olympiad. Only fifty-seven of them finished the race. Seventeen did not cross the finish line. John Stephen Akhwari didn’t want to be remembered as the eighteenth. Less than half way through the race, running in high altitude conditions with the glaring sun on his back, he stumbled at the nineteen-kilometre mark. The fall resulted in a badly dislocated right knee and several injuries on his head and shoulders.

The pain was excruciating. He still had twenty-three kilometres ahead of him. Exiting the Marathon was never on his mind. He received medical attention while runners passed him by. He was Africa’s Marathon Champion and his gaze was on the finish line, no matter how far! The rest is history. He limped, he staggered, he crawled, he jogged. Inch by inch, step by step, he arrived at the stadium an hour and five minutes after Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia crossed the finishing line. The games were literally over, the awards given out, the Olympic Flag lowered, but John Stephen Akhwari kept to the course. The few remaining spectators and television crew clapped their hands as he entered the stadium. All along the race, he was asked on several occasions to quit. He kept going. Finally, when he was asked why he didn’t quit, he candidly replied, “My country didn’t send me 5000 miles to start the race; my country sent me 5000 miles to finish the race!”

Today, nearly half a century later, John Stephen is known as the ‘Father of the Spirit of the Modern Games.’ The title, ‘Greatest Last Place Finish’ was worth every ounce of pain.

In a world surrounded by too many quitters, the life of John Stephen challenges us to never give up. The sands of time have gifted us another year. The new year 2018 is here for us. We have 365 days to complete the race we have begun. Like many in the past, quitting is an option we often encounter. The race is not about competing with others, it’s about bringing the best in each one of us. Problems are only disguised opportunities. Every minute is a valuable sixty-seconds-pack with infinite possibilities. But somehow, though surrounded by infinite possibilities, we restrict the circle of our life. How do I make the most of this year 2018? Here are some simple ways:

Six Life Skills to Finish Better:

  1. Slow Down, don’t Speed Up:

We are created as human beings—not as Ferrari speed cars. Our pace in life is rhythmic, though not always smooth. It was never meant to be a hurried routine. Somehow, many of us are constantly in a hurry. We seem to have in our DNA a ‘perpetually-late-syndrome’ that tries to catch up on lost time.  Velocity more than direction can become the norm of life. How far we go seems more important than where we arrive. We lose sight of our goal when we set our gaze only on the clock. At the start of the New Year, let your first resolution be to reconstruct your broken compass. Being on the right track, even if you are the ‘greatest last place finish’ is better than being first on the wrong track. Gold medals are never awarded on the wrong track!

  1. Celebrate Life; don’t just Survive it:

Caught in the web of daily struggles, we sadly journey through life on ‘Survival mode.’ We dread another day. We wish the sun set earlier and night cover us in darkness. Twenty-four hours is a long wait on our bed of pain and misery. And yet, we feel content and comfortable in our survival mode. We were never created for mere survival. “Get up and Walk” is the call for the New Year 2018. Celebrate Life is all its fulness. It is so sad to see young people display their Facebook status as ‘saaaad’, ‘booooooring’, ‘lifeleeeeess’, ‘anooooyed.’ The list goes on and on. Start the year by changing the status of your life to something positive and celebrative.

  1. World as Home, not as Battle Field:

Battle fields smell of blood, and are defaced with broken bodies. Home is scented by love, friendship, acceptance and forgiveness. Battle fields are high combat zones, where there is no place for error and forgiveness. Competition rules the terrain. The best and strongest survive; the weak are eliminated. When we view the world as a ‘battle ground,’ we are all losers’; we eliminate ourselves. Religion, politics, economics and cultural platforms are our new battlegrounds. We need to see the world through the ‘prism of home.’  Home unites us, home is where we all belong as family. Can this be your new resolution for 2018?

  1. Being First is not the Reward:

In Mitch Albom’s famous book, Tuesdays with Morrie, we discover the richness of ‘being second.’ In his conversations with his favourite professor, who is now dying, Mitch recalls a basketball game in 1979 in the Brandeis University stadium. His team is doing extremely well and they all chant in unison, “We’re number one!” Their celebrations are interrupted when Professor Morrie stands up and shouts, “What’s wrong with being number two?” We have been educated to believing that ‘being number two’ is being a loser! In life, being first is never the reward. Being Yourself is the greater achievement. How about this as your resolution for 2018?

  1. Your Timeline is Your Lifeline:

The best way to make the most of life is to invest your time wisely. Reflect for a moment how you spent your 2017. Was it a wasted year or an invested year? It is not going to come back. You can never have 2017 again. All your influence and money and power will never bring it back. It is gone—and gone forever. But, how you invested your 2017 will find its fruits in 2018.  Learn the art of thin-slicing your year, your month, your day. A day with twenty-four hours is a gift given equally to all. Start now. Don’t procrastinate your investment in time. Every second counts, every day matters, every month is special and every year is a blessing. Make your timeline an important lifeline in your journey. This is a resolution easy to preach about, but difficult to practice. Give it a shot—your best shot in fact!

  1. Live your Now in the Hope of Eternity:

One day, the heart will stop beating. Death stares us in the face. The earth will engulf us. Was it worth it, after all? Remember the words of the famous song, ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through’? Have something higher to live for, something more significant to make of your life. We are made for Eternity—to spend the rest of our life with an incredibly loving and good God.  Living our Now in the Hope of Eternity is a mantra worth remembering this 2018!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life SkillsUncategorized

BEFRIENDING THE POOR: Bridging the Rich-Poor Divide

10

At Christmas—or at any other time of the year—we need to move beyond romantic pictures of Christ’s poverty, and check how we treat the really poor.

There is a story told of how the leaders of the world came together to discuss the plight of the poor. The question asked was, “What do you think about the scarcity of food in the rest of the world?” The first group of leaders focused on the word ‘think’. “In our country,” they said, “we don’t think. We have upgraded to artificial intelligence. Machines do the thinking now. We gave up this faculty a long time ago. Sorry, we are unable to contribute to this discussion!” The next group of leaders belonging to the First World unanimously said, “We don’t understand the word ‘scarcity.’ We come from a world of ‘abundance.’ ‘Scarcity’ is not part of our vocabulary. We really don’t understand your question. Forgive us, we can’t contribute to this discussion.” All eyes now focused on the third group. They had,  perhaps, something to offer. The silence in the hall was shattered when one of them asked, “What do you mean ‘the rest of the world’? We are the world, we rule the world, there is nothing like the ‘rest of the world’. Who do you think they are? And, as far as we are concerned, the rest of the world doesn’t really exist. This question is totally irrelevant!”

The story sadly ends with the poor continuing to be ignored and dying of starvation! While a third of the world’s population dies of starvation, we can righty say that a third die also from over-eating! The World Food Organization Program rightly said, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is still the number one cause of death in the world. In our own country, for instance, forty-eight percent of the children are malnourished.

POVERTY AND SHARED PROSPERITY

In October 2017 the World Bank published a report on the latest global poverty figures, called, ‘Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality.’ As of today, an estimated 767 million people live below the international poverty line, which is $1.90 (approximately INR 125/-) per person per day. The World Bank proposed a goal to promote shared prosperity in every country in a sustainable way by encouraging income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in each country.

The only way to reduce income inequality, according to the Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report, was to focus on six parameters for future policies. These include:

  • early childhood development and nutrition,
  • universal health care,
  • universal access to quality education,
  • cash transfers to poor families,
  • rural infrastructure and
  • progressive taxation.

The target date is 2030! But, when our human barriers of selfishness and insensitivity come in the way, no target is ever achieved, however noble the effort. Many would sadly cling on to the lyrics in ‘Live and Let Die’ by Paul McCarthy, “But if this ever-changing world in which we’re living, makes you give in and cry, say live and let die!”  Shared prosperity is an idea that does not exist in reality.

POPE FRANCIS: WORLD DAY OF THE POOR

Lofty targets, set for 2030 by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), are challenging and achievable only when there is a change in our lifestyle, our attitudes and our openness to bridge the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Reviewing the SGD index, India fares very poorly—occupying the 117th place among 157 countries!

Pope Francis, the Pope of the Poor, is a change-setter. He is no economist, but his Christonomics calls for a new world order. The first World Day of the Poor was kept on November 19, 2017. In his message he wrote: We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty itself.

The tear-eyed faces of the poor stare at us with hope. Their empty hands stretch out to us for comfort and a supporting hand. Their famished rib-caged bodies struggle to take the next step. Time stands still for the poor. Their future is just a painful yesterday relived today once again. We are challenged to open our hands to them. There is a blessing in being an open hand to the poor!

Pope Francis continues to affirm the ‘beatitudes’ of the World Day of the Poor:  Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them. They are hands that bring hope. Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  1. CULTURE OF ENCOUNTER: It’s easy to walk away from the less privileged. They really know that you don’t care. It takes courage to change their perception of you. Pope Francis suggests that we develop a ‘culture of encounter’ and to shun the culture of discard and waste. It invites us to take the first step towards the poor. Begin with what comes natural to you: start a conversation, share a meal, give a smile. Listen to their stories. Behind their fragile faces and lives are humans capable of being loved and of loving in return.
  2. BELIEVE THE POOR HAVE MUCH TO CONTRIBUTE: Most countries and cities of the world have the ‘poor ones’ as their economic backbone. In India, 7% of GDP is generated from the slums. Mumbai’s Dharavi slum residents—experts in leather, textiles and pottery products—have an annual turnover estimated at US$1 billion. And yet, because they live in slums, we label them as unproductive, lazy and a burden to society. Join the various campaigns that support the Slum Rehabilitation in your vicinity. Enjoying a quality of life is their birth-right as well. “The poor are not a problem, they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel,” says Pope Francis.
  3. CELEBRATE WORLD DAY OF THE POOR EVERYDAY: Birthdays are only anniversaries; we live life 365 days! In the same way, the World Day of the Poor must ignite in us a heart full of compassion and empathy towards the poor. I spend my evenings daily with youngsters from the slums. It is the happiest moment of my day. They teach me lessons and values that no seminar or book can provide. Don’t be too judgemental and make wrong conclusions about the poor. Remember the old Native American quote, “don’t judge until you walk a mile in their moccasins.” As religious, the poor must be our first choice of ministry and the reason for our existence too.
  4. REMEMBER YOU COULD BECOME POOR OVERNIGHT: All our possessions are no guarantee that we will remain rich all our lives. Tragedy strikes at any time. From ‘riches’ to ‘ashes’ is a sad story of many well-to-do personalities. Remember, our identity does not come from what we possess. “If who you are is because of what you have, and what you have is lost; then who are you?” are words worth reflecting upon.
  5. LIVE THE JESUS WAY: Jesus was a friend of the poor. He became poor like one of us. The downward mobility of Jesus is a sign and an assurance that God loves and defends the poor. The poor need you to be their friend, just as you need to have them as your friend. Defend the cause of the poor in your locality. Do all it takes to stand for their basic rights. Human dignity is a treasure they all need. Mother Teresa rightly said, “I will never tire of repeating this: What the poor need the most is not pity but love. They need to feel respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being.”

If you really believe that Jesus is in the face of the poor, would you pass the test? Would you recognize his face in the sad, the poor, the unloved? Take the first step. Befriend the poor and bridge the gap between them and you.


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more
Life Skills

GRACEFULLY BROKEN

Web 15

After hiding in a toilet from would-be murderers for ninety-one days, and coming out weighing just 29 kilos, a twenty-one year old woman turned her bitter experience into a great lesson in living. So did a survivor of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. How did they do it? Can we do the same?

“I live happier now than when I had everything,” a serene Immaculee Ilibagiza affirms at a Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) 2017 Forum presentation.

Her story of brokenness goes back to April 1994, just before celebrating Easter. The shooting down of the plane over Kigali airport on 6 April 1994, left Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, belonging to the Hutu tribe of Rwanda, dead! This triggered the beginning of a three-month long genocide in which the Hutus (the majority tribe) massacred the Tutsis, the other Rwandan tribe.  The Rwandan holocaust, in a span of just one hundred days, left a million people dead and over two million refugees. A Tutsi survivor of the holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza was a barely twenty- one years old university student. Along with seven others, she hid in a small toilet measuring four feet by three feet, in the house of Pastor Simon Murinzi, a Hutu, for ninety-one days!

During this time, her entire family was brutally slaughtered. After nearly 275 days in darkness, hunger and thirst, stench, fear and extreme anxiety, Ilibagiza emerged a different person. She had weighed 52 kilos the day she went into hiding; her weight was down to just 29 kilos when she came out. Her bones stuck out of her frail body, but her heart was strong and forgiving. In her book, Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, she confesses that it was in that toilet that she discovered God. She learnt to cling on to hope, and she could forgive unconditionally, while she experienced the power of prayer and love. Her very name, Ilibagiza, means to ‘dispel the darkness’! A small bible that she borrowed from Pastor Murinzi and the last gift of a red and white rosary by her father to her, proved to be the defining supports for dispelling the darkness of those ninety-one days. Today, twenty-three years later, Ilibagiza is a staunch Catholic, a motivational speaker, author and member of the ‘Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice Forum.’ She takes time to care for a number  of orphans. Her life is ‘gracefully broken.’ She uses the many ‘lessons learnt’ in that dark toilet to help other broken lives to find ‘grace’ and ‘love.’ She is no more the ‘Tutsi-cockroach’ waiting to be slaughtered but a beloved image of God to be imitated and loved.

Light in the darkness

Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. The end of every tunnel is always ‘light-embracing.’ Ahead of every failure lies a step toward success. Beyond the pain of every loss, there is a new arrival. Life somehow, even miraculously, recreates the broken! Our history is chequered with lives of personalities who have faced the utmost hardships, shattered to a thousand pieces, broken beyond repair, torn apart like shredded cloth, disfigured beyond recognition and failed a thousand times over. And yet, these same lives radiate a deep connect with God that expresses itself outwardly through joy, serenity, peace, forgiveness and hope. Light radiates through the cracks in their lives.

Kia Scherr, whose husband Allen and daughter Naomi Scherr were shot dead at the Trident Hotel on  26/11/2008, when terror struck Mumbai, is a beacon of hope. Her peaceful life was torn apart by the brutal acts of Kasab and his gang. Surrounded by pain, loss, the need for revenge and hopelessness, Kia chose to be a ‘peace entrepreneur’ and started a whole movement called ‘One Life Alliance’ that promotes the sacredness of life. “Revenge isn’t a word in the lexicon of Kia,” quotes Jyoti P. Lavakare. In her ‘Letter to a Terrorist,’ now made into a short nine-minute documentary, Kia writes, “I feel, with each passing day, more alive than I have ever been!” Kia and Ilibagiza share the same line of thought. Both gracefully broken!

The Japanese have developed an unusual art form: ‘Kintsugi’ or ‘Kintsukuroi’ or the art of ‘golden repair.’ Broken ceramic jars are artistically joined together with a special lacquer dusted with gold, silver or platinum. The golden joinery, in fact, makes the broken ceramic container more beautiful and expensive. What would naturally have found its way to the waste bin, is now displayed on a showcase for all to admire.

Five Life Skills

Here are five simple life skills to convert your brokenness into something gracefully miraculous:

  1. ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE ‘PERFECTLY IMPERFECT’: There is great freedom in learning this life skill. Trying to live our lives ‘perfectly-perfect’ takes a toll on every cell in your system. Life was never meant to be a 100% success story, devoid of flaws, failures or tragedy. In fact, it is the ‘imperfectness’ of our lives that makes us more humane and brings out the compassionate and fragile-self of our lives. In embracing the imperfections in us, we find it easier to accept the brokenness of others. Life is a never-ending journey into becoming the best of who we were meant to be. But, this journey has to necessarily pass through periods of brokenness.
  2. COURAGE TO GATHER THE FRAGMENTS: We were not created to live shattered lives forever. In the journey of life, we do break and fall apart. It takes a lot of courage, and humility too, to get down on our fallen knees and gather the fragments. Every fragment is an important piece in the mosaic of your life. Your history cannot disown your painful past. It is only in hind-sight, we learn to appreciate the events of our past. Steve Jobs was right when he said, “We need to connect the dots. No one connects the dots with reference to the future. We always connect them with reference to our past.” In connecting the dots, the tapestry of our life becomes more vibrant and significant. No dot can be left out.
  3. SHARE THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE: The narratives of every life are important. They inspire and motivate people to take on a new direction in life. Hollywood and Bollywood are full of true life stories that inspire and give hope. Your life too can be inspiring. There is no shame in admitting your failures and brokenness. When your life is put to the test, it is your friends who come out the best.
  4. ACCEPT THE BROKENNESS OF OTHERS: Just as you are ‘perfectly-imperfect,’ accept that there are others like you in the same boat. It would be hypocritical to hide behind a ‘better-than-thou’ attitude. Perfection is not a competitive struggle we need to engage in. In our imperfections, we recognise our need for support, formation and compassion.

ALLOW GOD TO “KINTSUGI” YOU: Great saints were broken sinners who allowed God to Kintsugi their lives. Our brokenness is the very reason for divine intervention. The Psalmist rightfully says, “God comes to heal the broken-hearted and to bind up all their wounds” (Psalm 147:3) and “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). With God’s Grace, we are assured of a happier future than all the shame and hurt of our past. Let not your tomorrows be a continuation of your broken past. Jesus, the master carpenter, knows best the art of joinery. He can mend your brokenness gracefully. Allow Him to turn you into a masterpiece.


To subscribe to the magazine     Contact Us

read more