Spirituality

Spirituality

Economic Justice

NOV 13

Mrs Annie noticed a lady coming to church dressed in very poor clothes. In fact, the woman used the same old and tattered sari repeatedly. Wanting to help her without embarrassing her, Annie inquired discreetly who the woman was. She found out that the woman worked as a cook for a well-to-do Catholic man, a well-known businessman. This man had a name for being a prominent Catholic of the place. He was not only rich; he would host and ffinance prayer meetings. But one thing he did not do was to pay his workers a just salary or wage. The poor woman in question was being paid so little, she could not even buy new clothes with the salary she was getting. How come her employer, a so-called pious Catholic, did not see just wages as a part of Christian duty?

Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was canonized a few weeks ago, was killed, not for saying that he believed in Jesus, but for being on the side of the poor. He was murdered at the behest of wealthy, church-going landowners and politicians who hated him for speaking up for the victims.

In the last issue, I presented the three essential traits of spirituality—integrity, love and justice. Spirituality is not only or mainly a question of saying prayers or frequenting places of worship or sticking to a particular diet on special days. No, it is seen in our whole life. We cannot mark off a small or special area as spiritual, and consider the rest as unconnected to that.

One essential aspect of Christian spirituality is justice.

Justice means giving every person his or her due. It is different from charity or compassion. When I gift my new shirt to a poor person, it is charity. When I pay my workers a just salary, it is justice, not charity. They have a right to a just wage, unlike the poor man I mentioned, who has no right to my new shirt.

Access to power

Justice implies access to power.

What do I mean?

If I am too poor to study, or am deprived of chances to study because of my gender or for belonging to a particular ethnic group, then I have no access to the power that education would have given me. Thus, when Martin Luther King organized the African-Americans in the 1960s, he was not asking for charity; he was demanding the right to vote, the right to equal treatment.

Justice (or the lack of it) is especially seen in three areas of life—money, gender and ethnicity. Thus, I may a victim of injustice (like the cook I mentioned) because of not receiving a proper salary. Or I may be denied chances for education—or, worse still, murdered in infancy—because of my gender. Or I may not be allowed to draw water from the village well because I belong to a caste considered “low.” All three are cases of injustice.

They are also linked. Thus, the most inhumanly treated human beings in the world are poor women belonging to a race or caste or tribe considered low. She suffers economic injustice (unlike rich women), gender injustice (unlike the men of her group) and ethnic insults (unlike women and men from the so-called “higher” groups). Think of dalit women forced to clean the dry toilets of so-called “upper caste” people with their hands, and to whom, as payment, a couple of chappathis are thrown. What could be more degrading than that!

Pope Francis has launched the Day of the Poor (November 18th this year) to invite us to listen to the cry of the poor and to get involved on their side.

It is not enough we do some occasional charity and thus calm our conscience. No, we need to listen to the silent and vocal cries of the poor, reach out and make a difference. We need to, as the Pope says, be evangelized by the poor. How can we be “evangelized” or converted by the poor?

The poor as evangelizers

I remember a Jesuit priest—professor and formator who worked among poor fisherfolk and studied their life and spirituality—who told me, “I learnt spirituality better from the poor fisherfolk than from my Jesuit formation.”

Cut off from the struggles of life and the anguish of those who really suffer, we religious, priests and better-off lay people can develop a form of “spirituality” that is artificial, comfortable and undemanding, one that consists in a regimented routine, practices of piety and nice-sounding ideas we picked up from books or conferences. This may have very little to do with the teachings and example of Jesus. It is much easier to sing hymns in a beautiful chapel than to live poor among the poor (as Pope Francis did as a bishop) and to struggle at their side.

The Bible tells us: Let justice flow like the river. Remove oppression from your midst. Treat well the widow and the orphan. Be kind to the stranger in your midst.

In our formation houses, in our sermons and circulars, when we speak of spirituality, we must make sure we are not referring simply to the annual retreat, the daily Mass and other prayers, nor merely to periods of silence or fasting, but to a well-lived life of integrity (free of all crookedness), love (free of hatred, selfishness and revenge) and justice.

Justice demands (not simply exhorts, but really demands) that in our dealings as employers, government officials, church administrators and other posts where people depend us, we make sure that all dealings are just. People’s lives are sacred. Every one’s rights are sacred. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect as a human being. Among such rights are right to life, right to free speech, right to education and a decent standard of living. When such rights are forgotten or trampled upon, there is no spirituality to speak of, but only glorified hypocrisy. We may be active in cult, but failing in spirituality.

Such betrayals of Jesus’ message started early in the church. Saint Jerome wrote in the fourth century, “Why are we adorning the walls of the church with precious stones when Christ is dying in the poor?” (I am not saying that all or most church people were guilty of this, but that Jerome saw this abuse.)

That same challenge can, and must, be made to the way some of us live, to the way some churches and religious houses are constructed, to the way common funds are allotted. No wonder, there is also a vocal underground of opposition within the church to the present Pope’s leadership and life-style. A number of Catholics, including some church personnel, would prefer a comfortable church on the side of the powerful, rather than the compassionate and caring church of the poor which he is trying to lead us into. We need to ask: Which model is more faithful to Jesus Christ? The answer is pretty obvious, don’t you think?

 

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Fr Joe Mannath SDB

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Spirituality

Spirituality – The Three Dimensions

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You may have heard the joke about a religious telling his provincial: “In this community we have a few saints, and the rest are martyrs!” The reference is to the disappointing (at times scandalous) reality that a person may be meticulous about the practices of piety or even spend long time in church, but be extremely difficult to live with, or lacking in compassion, love or generosity.

Once someone asked Don Bosco what he thought of the spirit of prayer in a particular community. He replied he would tell them in a few days. The reason: Don Bosco believed that anyone can look pious in church; that one’s prayer life is seen more in one’s spontaneous behaviour and remarks. In the case of boys, he referred to the dining room and the playground—the two places where a boy shows what he is truly like.

To explain what spirituality really is, I would like to use the case of a religious sister. Let us call her Sr. Jane.

Sr. Jane asked herself some central questions: What is spirituality in practice? Who is a “spiritual” or holy person? After all, holiness cannot be measured like temperature, nor taught, like English grammar or mathematics.

She is also disturbed by two experiences. One, that her family members (who have not had novitiates, daily Mass and meditation, monthly recollections and annual retreats) are often more God-centred and Christ-like. Secondly, we live in a country noted for its external religiosity—large crowds at churches, temples and mosques; pilgrimages to religious shrines—but which is also marked by deep corruption. One day, an educated woman told her: “My husband knows a lot of prominent people in the city. Some of the most corrupt are also the most ‘religious.’ So, he prefers to be an atheist.”

Personally, Sr. Jane is also looking for more enthusiasm and freshness in her commitment. She is doing her work honestly, but she often feels that there is no “fire” in her; that a real passion for God is missing.

She feels challenged by Susan and Hilda, two of her companions who are working among the poor. They tell Jane: “These poor people are much more God-oriented than many of us. We learnt more about spirituality from them, than they from us.”

Talking to younger religious and some seminarians and priests, she finds that they are tremendously impressed by persons like Medha Patkar (who so courageously defends the poor people displaced and dispossessed by the large dams), Abdul Kalam, our much-loved former president, Harsh Mander (who resigned from IAS, in the wake of the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat). Such women and men are shining examples of integrity and commitment. Isn’t that spirituality?

She started reading up on spirituality. She is amazed to discover the tremendous range of writings on spirituality— everything from Biblical to Patristic to Liberation to Feminist to Indian to Youth to the spirituality of married couples and children. She had no idea there are so many approaches to spirituality.

Among the authors she read, Jane was particularly impressed by Donal Dorr, an Irish Missionary who works in Africa. Dorr is aware of the tension between the contemplatives and the activists in the church, and their mutual critique. He presents an integral spirituality, which has three main dimensions.

Dorr calls the personal dimension “religious conversion” or conversion to God. If I trust in God, I will be a person of integrity. It is in God’s providence that I trust, not in money or crookedness. We cannot claim to trust God or be Godcentred, and do crooked things at the same time. God cannot ask me to cheat others, or tell lies. God’s interest is not simply that I sing hymns in church. As Psalm 37 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” It asks us not to follow the paths of the crooked.

Secondly, at an interpersonal level, spirituality is expressed as love—a forgiving and active love, as Jesus taught by word and example. This hardly needs explanation. In a family or religious community, we know very soon who is loving and who is selfish, whom we can count on when we need help, and who will not lift a finger to help others. One good example of spirituality that comes to my mind is of a superior who faced calumnies very calmly. When I expressed my admiration for this attitude, he told me, “When someone speaks ill of me, I pray extra for that person; this way, I have never lost my peace of mind.”

The third is the social level. This is the structural or organized level of our life, where justice is the main issue. Since people often suffer injustice on the basis of money, gender or race/caste, the truly spiritual person will make sure to avoid any such discrimination or injustice. If I am unjust, I cannot be spiritual or godly. Thus, if I am a religious superior or employer, iis not enough I pray for my employees, or smile at them; I have the duty to see that they are paid a just salary, and that their working conditions are proper. So, too, I cannot discriminate against someone of the basis of money, gender or ethnicity. If I am a linguistic bigot or a caste fanatic (putting down others belonging to a different group), I cannot call myself spiritual or a disciple of Jesus.

Linked to integrity and justice is the whole area of ecology, which, Jane realized, is such a pressing moral and spiritual issue. Now she understands how important it is—to care for the planet, our common home.

If spirituality is such an all-embracing reality, Jane realizes she can learn it from good, honest people and from courageous activists, from deeply prayerful people and from deeply compassionate caregivers. She sees that prayer is not opposed to the action for justice; the two are closely linked. In fact, she understands the meaning of prayer more correctly. Prayer is not just saying some formula, or spending hours in church, but truly listening to God with her whole heart, eager to listen, and eager to do what God asks. She sees what a great model of prayer Our Lady is. At the Annunciation, Mary listened to God and said Yes, and then rushed to help Elizabeth who was in need.

Jane got into her annual retreat with greater eagerness. The spiritual path seemed to her such a thrilling adventure—to get to know her own potential and inner strength more fully, to become a person of integrity, to grow in love, to stand for justice. She met Sister Bernardine, an excellent retreat director and scripture scholar, who told her that her quest was right on target, that, according to the Bible, the inner experience of God and the practice of justice are deeply linked. Sr. Bernardine encouraged Jane to meditate on Psalm 14 (15). The psalm makes holiness consist in right relationships—avoiding slander and calumny, usury and bribes.

Sr. Jane was also helped by a friend who loves this verse from prophet Micah (6:8): “This is what God asks of you: that you do justice, that you love, that you walk humbly with God.”

Jane now feels a new enthusiasm and a new respect for herself. She knows that integrity is central, and that is her own responsibility. She reaches out to others with greater thoughtfulness and love, apologizes when she hurts someone, and prays for those who hurt her. She tries to bring more into her dealings. She also stands for justice, speaks up for the poor, or on women’s issues, and fights all caste discrimination. She teaches her students care for the environment.

Jane now feels more alive, finds life more meaningful; Jesus’ words and life provide a silent but powerful support and inspiration for this journey. Each day brings new challenges, and fresh opportunities. Others notice the sparkle in Jane’s eyes, and remark how life-giving her presence is Many of them say: “I want to be more like Sr. Jane.”

 

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Spirituality

Psycho-Spiritual Approaches

JULY 06

This column started with the meaning of “spirituality,” followed by the four basic “models” or ways of understanding it. It then presented two models, namely, the communitarian model (as when we speak of Franciscan, Vincentian or Carmelite spirituality) and the social justice model (quoting persons like Oscar Romero or Rani Maria as models).

This article presents a third model which has become very popular—the Psychological-Developmental Model.

Those who take this approach are not trying to present the spiritual tradition of a particular saint or religious order, but the common psycho-spiritual and developmental issues that everyone faces.

Thus, when we arrange a seminar for persons in their mid-life, a medical doctor may take classes on the physical symptoms and impact of menopause, a psychologist may focus on the emotional effects, etc. When we conduct a retreat for teenagers, we need to know the psychological challenges young people face. Emotional and developmental issues are common to all human beings. They do not differ from religion to religion, nor from one Catholic religious order to another! Depression is depression, jealousy is jealousy, and sexual attraction is powerful, whichever group one may belong to.

Even when someone seeks spiritual direction or vocational discernment, most of the issues involved concern our emotions, relationships, sexuality, family ties, unhealed wounds, etc.

Emotional Wounds and Spiritual Struggles

My difficulty in prayer can stem from broken relationships. My vocational problems may be tied to depression or unhealed hurts. My image of God may be negative…

 

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Fr Joe Mannath SDB

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Spirituality

The Contemplative Approach

AUGUST 5

Five years ago, a bright, active student leader in one of Delhi’s prestigious colleges shocked her family and college mates by joining a contemplative religious order.

MAGNET has published the story of a young woman with a Ph.D. in astrophysics who joined the contemplative Carmel convent in Pune. One of the books we reviewed was the story of Dolores Hart, a popular American actress, who became a nun.

Why do people quit successful careers and make such “crazy” choices? Why “leave” the world of family life, activity, career, social contacts, movies and movement, and enter a world of silence, prayer and utter simplicity?

What is contemplation?

If you were to put your face flat on this page, you will not be able to read it. You would be too close. If you stand ten feet away, you would be too far.

There is a proper distance for seeing right.

Contemplation, basically, is taking the right distance from things to be able to see them correctly—in God’s own light.

Things are not what they seem to be, when we see them correctly. Money or pleasure or fame or possessions can appear very attractive. In fact, they can seem to be the main reason for working hard or having a job or holding a degree. But they let us down. They prove to be illusory conquests that leave our hearts empty. The human heart wants—needs—much more than that. Nothing limited will satisfy it.

This is a universal truth about human beings. Catholic nuns and monks are not the only ones taking it seriously…

 


Fr Joe Mannath SDB

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Spirituality

A PASSION FOR JUSTICE

JUNE 14

One day, a diocesan seminarian, my student, tells me, “Why do we say that St John Mary Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests? I find Archbishop Romero a more inspiring model.”

He is making a valid point. There is no one model for holiness. Both Vianney and Romero can inspire us, just as one may be a “fan” of St Therese of Lisieux, while another may learn much from Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

A passion for justice and the willingness to challenge oppression, and pay a price for it—this is both Biblical and a much-needed aspect of Christian spirituality.

It is often easier—and can be a selfish escape—simply to pray for the poor or for the world, than to get involved to improve things.

Today, there are many martyrs of justice, men and women who pay a heavy price—loss of job, false cases, opposition from the powerful—for taking a stand for justice.  Think of Sr Rani Maria, or Sr Valsa John, or the Jesuit Martyrs of the University of Central America. They would not have made enemies if they had limited their Christian faith to saying their prayers.

The stand for justice begins in our own homes and institutions. Do we pay our workers a just salary? Are their working conditions fair and human? How do we deal with them? Do we look down on people because of their poverty, or ethnicity or gender?

You may have head the words of the much-loved (and much-persecuted) Brazilian bishop, Dom Helder Camara, “When I say we must help the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.” While most people are ready to do some charity, they are not ready to be challenged on matters of justice—e.g., land ownership, wages, working conditions.

Archbishop Romero, for instance, said that the most basic form of violence in his country (El Salvador) was structural injustice. Fourteen families owned most of the land. Anyone who protested was opposed, branded a Communist, and even killed. He was shot dead the day after he appealed to the soldiers to stop killing the poor.

Justice is more basic than doing charity. While we need to help at least some people through acts of charity, the more important thing is to create just structures where people are treated justly and get their rights.

For us, members of religious orders, who run institutions, our main concern cannot be how to save money or how to make money for our congregation, but how we serve the people, especially the poor. More basic than doing acts of charity for them (e.g., or giving money during an illness) is treating them justly.

Justice refers to three areas: money, gender and ethnicity.

Money: How is it that the top one percent in our country own 73 percent of the nation’s wealth? Or how can the super-rich swindle the banks for thousands of crores, while a needy person cannot get a small loan? In our own institutions, have we put in place just salaries and working conditions?

Money is the largest area of injustice. The only thing the New Testament calls “the root of all evil” is love of money.

Gender is another area. Do we bring up our sons and daughters with this sense of mutual respect? Do our marriages and the way women are treated in Church circles reflect a sense of equality and mutual respect? How far have we swallowed uncritically our culture’s low esteem for women?

Ethnicity: Do I look down upon some persons as lower, or disparage them, or treat them badly, because they belong to a particular race or caste or tribe? Will every human being, irrespective of ethnicity, get the same and respectful treatment from me?

Justice builds a beautiful world where human beings are treated as human beings, where all have access to opportunities—and no one is excluded from power or freedom or upward mobility because of poverty, or gender or being born into a particular group.

May our faith and our spiritual quest not be limited to conventional piety. May it find clear expression in a courageous and caring stand for justice, both in our institutions and in the larger world. Spirituality is far more than private devotion.


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Spirituality

Tips For A Good Retreat

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Many of us will be making a retreat in April or May. Here are tips on making a retreat—based on my experience of making, preaching and directing retreats. Your experience will teach you more.

WHAT IS A RETREAT?

If you hold this page too lose to your face, you will not be able to read it. You cannot read it also if it is too far. To read correctly, you need the right distance.

Contemplation, or silence (or a retreat) happens when we look at our life from the right distance—to see how we live. All human beings need this. Otherwise, we simply carry on making the same mistakes. We do not grow up. We may also do much harm—to ourselves and to others.

There is no rule on how long a retreat should be, nor what type. An activist in a slum can be more contemplative and self-sacrificing than a lazy monk in a silent monastery. A mother of six active kids can have a deeper sense of God than a nun making a thirty-day retreat. It all depends on how genuine, and sincere, and loving we are, and how intensely we pursue paths of growth.

TYPES OF RETREATS

Preached: A preacher gives talks to the group. The group can be ten or ten thousand. Preached retreats can reach large groups. If the preacher is effective, the talks can enlighten, inspire and move people to improvement. Main danger: The retreatant may put the responsibility on the preacher, or think: I have heard the talks; I have made my retreat.

Charismatic retreats are one type of preached retreats.

Directed: The “real” director is the Holy Spirit. The retreatant spends time in prayer, especially with the Bible. S/he meets the director (possibly every day), especially to talk over the prayer experiences (and other personal matters). To be effective, the group must be small, and the director must be a good spiritual director.

Solitary: I can take time off, and make a retreat by myself. I do not need a group or a human guide. I may also meet someone for spiritual direction or confession.

TYPES OF RETREATANTS

The tone and contents of a retreat depend on the group. Seniors and teenagers have different needs. A parish group needs more talks than a group of priests or religious. A final profession group needs good spiritual direction and help with discernment.

HOW TO MAKE A RETREAT

Take responsibility for your inner journey. No one else can push you into a relationship with God, or make you good or happy. Or solve your personal problems for you. Know, too, that others are not really interested in your growth or happiness. If you want to be happy, and grow up, grab the chances you get, work at it, get help, change! A retreat is one such opportunity.

PRACTICAL TIPS

Keep silence. Read and mark your personal copy of the Bible. Spend at least four hours a day in personal prayer. Write what strikes you. Talk these points over with someone you trust and esteem. Make a meaningful confession, deciding to correct your major areas of sin, especially what does harm to others. Decide on at least one step that will help you to be a happier and more loving person.

CHECK THE FRUITS

Nothing produces results magically—neither our meals, nor our retreats. Check the fruits: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Galatians 5:22).

Our goal is not simply making more retreats or even joining religious orders or prayer groups. All these are only means. Our aim is to become persons of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Our model is Jesus—and, secondly, anyone else who lives as He taught.

A retreat I get into with my heart and mind is one way of moving towards this goal.


– Fr. Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of CRI and the editor of this magazine

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