Friday, August 30, 2013

The Compassionate God in the Story of Jonah

Our God is compassionate and wills that all people be saved. Even though we witness a compassionate God in the New Testament we also have many instances in the Old Testament which signify to the fact that our God is compassionate. We also witness a compassionate God in the story of Jonah.

God Cares for the Whole World
In the story of Jonah we come across flora and fauna with which God seems to be concerned about (Jonah 4:11). The story’s credibility lies in its religious and philosophical message and not in its contribution to biological questions regarding the different animals or plants. Therefore it does not matter to find out the scientific names of the mysterious plant and the whale. After hearing the message of Jonah the decree of the king proclaimed abstinence for both human beings and animals (Jonah 3:7). In the story the king extends this to beast, cattle and flock – in short to every living creature. It is the humour of parody. In Jonah 3:8 we read – “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sack cloth and they shall cry mightily to God.” Partly we are also confronted with the author’s antic wit: it is easy enough to deprive domestic animals of fodder and drink and then pretend that they are fasting but it is another thing to imagine the animals parading about in sackcloth. This phrase of using ‘human beings and animals’ is a standard formula for prophet Jeremiah representing the whole of God’s creation, of His beneficence or of His condemnation. We find this in Jeremiah 7:20; 21:6; 27:5; 31:27; 32:43; 33:10. Also in the last verse in Jonah 4:11 there is a mention of animals who are a cause of concern for God whom He wishes to save.

God Cares for All Peoples
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium reflects the sentiments of the book of Jonah when it says that – “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (LG 16). God cares for all peoples of the world and this is elucidated in the last verse of the Book of Jonah that is in where God says – “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left and also many animals” (Jonah 4:11). The sending of Jonah to Nineveh was to bring to light the truth that even the Gentiles were capable of receiving divine truth and to exhibit the possibility of their eventual reception into the Kingdom of God. This truth could not have been brought to the consciousness of the Israelites in a more impressive manner than by Jonah’s really travelling to Nineveh to proclaim the destruction of that city on account of its wickedness and seeing the proclamation followed by the results.

God Rescues Those in Trouble
In times of trouble God comes to the rescue of His creatures. It is interesting to note that Jonah chose death rather than obedience to the call of Yahweh. The mariners questioned Jonah – “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8). Jonah replied by saying – “I am a Hebrew, I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). Thus Jonah confessed the very God from whom he was fleeing. Upon hearing this, the mariners were filled with fear and ask Jonah – “What is this that you have done! What shall we do to you that the sea may quiet down for us?” (Jonah 1:10)  Jonah responds by asking the mariners to lift him up and hurl him into the sea. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you” (Jonah 1:11). Even now when repentance could have brought an end to the storm, Jonah chose death rather than obedience to the call of Yahweh. Yet God comes to the rescue of Jonah which is portrayed through the whale which acts as a vehicle of deliverance. God not only rescues Jonah but also makes a clear decision in rescuing all the people of Nineveh from their two fold troubles: Firstly God saves the people from their own sins which have blinded them and secondly God saves them from the destruction that was awaiting them.

The Compassionate God May Change His Mind
         An encounter between God and Jonah is presented in Jonah 4:1-11 that results from God’s decision to forgive the people of Nineveh and thereby reverse the earlier message of judgment against them which was delivered by Jonah. The verse in Jonah 4:1 expresses Jonah’s anger at God for having reversed the divine message. There is a great deal of speculation that Jonah’s anger is prompted by his own selfishness and embarrassment at having his prophetic message reversed, but as the discussion reveals, Jonah is angry at God for not following through the announcement of punishment. The issue is not just about Jonah’s selfishness or embarrassment, but about God’s reliability. At the start of the book the narrator builds up Jonah’s character as one who is rebellious. But later on Jonah raises the question of God’s integrity and claims this as his reason for fleeing that is he knew that God would not carry out the Divine Word. He cites as the reason for this conclusion the well known statement concerning God’s merciful character from Exodus 34:6-7 – “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and read to relent from punishing.” The references to God’s capacity to punish as in Exodus 34:6-7 are entirely missing in Jonah so that the issue focuses on God’s capacity to forgive when wrong doers repent and change their ways.

Article Submitted to the Examiner on 6th August, 2013

Saturday, March 17, 2012

2nd Sunday of Easter (Year B) - 15th April, 2012

Acts 4:32-35 / 1 Jn 5:1-6 / Jn 20:19-31

Dear friends, one man dared to be brave. While others were cowed down with fear he fearlessly roamed around the city. This man was St. Thomas. No wonder this bold saint came as far as India to preach the Good News. While all the apostles out of fear locked up themselves in one room, where was Thomas? Thomas was not with them, he was out on his own –quite a bold and confident man. So when the disciples told Thomas about the appearance of Jesus he refused to believe. How can Jesus show himself to these fearful people and not him?

Later on Jesus appears to Thomas and asks him to touch and verify if he is truly the crucified Jesus who has risen. Our Lord Jesus is known by his scars. An interesting question arises. Why did Jesus allow Thomas to touch him but not Mary Magdalene? In the previous paragraph Jesus stops Mary Magdalene from touching him since he has not yet ascended to the Father. On the other hand in today’s gospel passage Jesus is asking Thomas to touch him. Why this different treatment? This has a deep theological significance. In the Jewish temple the high priest used to offer the sacrificial offering which would move up like a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Only the high priest was allowed to touch this sacrificial offering. Here we have Jesus who is the sacrificial offering who is ascending into heaven. Just as only the priest was allowed to touch this offering, Jesus allows only his priest to touch this sacrificial offering. In other words, Jesus is assigning his apostles the role of a priest.

In the first reading we heard that the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power and they were all given great respect. Jesus had touched their hearts deeply and transformed their lives. The followers of Christ had true love for one another because they believed that all were God’s children. Being children of one Father, they had concern for their needy brothers and sisters. St. John in his first letter explains what it means to love God. He says –“We can be sure that we love God’s children if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us.”

Dear friends, as we live in an experiential world let us pray for the gift of faith in our life, for a caring attitude towards our needy brothers and sisters and for faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Article published in Asian Journal of Religious Studies, Vol 57:2, March 2012.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Agents of Death Vs Agents of Life

The Magi came to worship the new born King Jesus. Matthew 2:1 – “Some wise men came to Jerusalem from the East asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage'.” They came from the Far East may be from Persia, East Syria or Arabia. It is interesting to note that the three kings landed in the palace of Herod whilst enquiring about the new born King. It is natural that the king of the Jews would be expected to be in his palace but they did not find the king they came for. Here we have two forces or agents strongly acting against each other. On one hand we have the powerful king Herod and his supporters whilst on the other hand we have the weak baby Jesus and His supporters.
The agents of death – Herod and the religious authorities were frightened when they heard of a new king being born.  Matthew 2:3 - “When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.”The presence of the religious authorities in the palace of Herod signifies the unholy alliance between civil and religious leaders. Matthew 2:4 – “Herod called together all the chief priests and the scribes.” Herod wanted to kill the child Jesus. Here the group is powerful with military power and political power. They destroy and eliminate life with the massacre of the innocent children. Matthew 2:16 – “Herod was furious on realizing that he had been fooled by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or less.” The Magi at first unknowingly went to the agents of death but soon they departed and joined the other group – the agents of life.
The agents of life – God, Angels, Joseph, Mary, child Jesus and the Magi were promoters and safe-guarders of life. The Magi disobey the agents of death and join the agents of life. Matthew 2:12 – “The magi were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their own country by a different way.” In this group people are helpless but still they hold on. This is the true worship of the Magi. The agents of death want to destroy and kill but the agents of life promote and protect life.
The battle continues today between agents of death and agents of life. A few agents of death are those who promote war, terrorism, discrimination, injustice, greed, self-centeredness, unholy alliances between groups to destroy life, insensitivity etc. A few agents of life are those who promote peace, unity, justice, love, charity, selflessness, harmony, non-violence etc. Today we still have people who come with the intention of worshipping the true God – the agent of life but struggle to find the way. Often they land up in the wrong side with the agents of death who are more appealing but some like the Magi leave the forces of death and join the forces of life.
Joining the agents of life is a challenge. There is no military power, no political power and no economical power to guarantee this group. They are the weakest in the eyes of the world and lack support. They are like the ‘anavim’ – those who are in desperate need of God and put their total trust in God. And God takes care of His children amidst the strong forces of death they are surrounded with.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bringing Up Children

In today’s world it is not easy to bring up a child well groomed in moral and Christian virtues. It is challenging both for parents and children to be a good Catholic parent and a good Catholic son or daughter. On one hand, fierce competitions pull us down while on the other hand the media and changing value systems of our society prove detrimental to our growth as good Christians. In this background, how do we bring up children?

It is even more challenging to educate and guide our teenagers. The struggles within good Catholic families are only multiplying day by day. There is no easy way out, but we can learn a few things from the Salesian spirituality which has its focus on the young. The apostle of youth, St. John Bosco had from his own lived experience enumerated a few practical ways of helping the young to come close to God. He learnt his educative system from his mother, Mamma Margaret who taught him to be kind but firm.

St. John Bosco’s educative system has been practiced for 150 years in all Salesian institutions. So far, it has been quite effective and till today the Salesians use this simple and practical system based on Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. A few traits of this educative system may help both parents and children.

The Word in the Ear

A parent’s occasional word in the ear is almost an echo of God’s word. St. John Bosco often gave advice to his boys that was always timely. In the playground, study hall, at recreation, St. John Bosco would say to one boy or another, ‘Shall I tell you something’. And placing his hand over the boy’s head and stooping to the boy’s ear would whisper a word or two. Don Bosco’s ‘word in the ear’ took only a moment but like a fiery dart it pierced the heart. Sometimes, it was an advice, an observation, an encouragement or even a reprimand. St. John Bosco seldom scolded harshly, much less publicly. Nearly all his boys trusted him and relied fully on him. The ‘word in the ear’ can be effective in trustful relationships between parent and child.


Today in families, there is a greater need for availability, both on part of parents and children. The hectic metro life denies this basic necessity of being available to each other. Inspite of heavy schedules and overburdening work load, St. John Bosco also found time to receive with fatherly affection those who sought a private talk with him. Often due to his heavy work load he hardly slept for four hours. His boys went to him willingly and open-heartedly because he never showed surprise or impatience or passed hasty judgments but was calm and composed. There is a need to squeeze out a little time at least on weekends so that family members can listen, interact and be available to each other. Thus good family spirit is cultivated.


St. John Bosco believed in assistance which is 24x7. Even today every Salesian believes in being present and animating the youngsters in whatever they do. St. John Bosco believed that it would be naïve to think that youngsters are immune to human weaknesses. There is a great need for an animating presence of a parent accompanying the child in his or her study, work, recreation etc. The parents do not have to study or play but they know what is going around and are able to guide, help and assist their child. This assistance is like that of a guardian angel.

Frequenting the Sacraments

St. John Bosco endlessly gave importance to three things – the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Devotion to Our Lady. Again and again he insisted on these things from his boys. He also cultivated in the boys a love for the Church and the Holy Father. There is no doubt that parents are the first Catechists who lay the foundations of faith. Depending on that foundation their son or daughter will build their faith through Church Catechesis at later stages of their life.

Article published in 'The Examiner', 9th January, 2010
(Vol 161, No 2)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mary - Model Catechist

Mary – Model Catechist

‘From the Church, the Christian learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2030)

A model catechist could be summed up as one who teaches, intervenes and accompanies the catechumen. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be distancing himself with His mother as He says, ‘who are my mother and my brothers.’ (Mk 3:33) In fact, Jesus is asserting the catechetical role of Mary by saying, ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Mk 3:35) This verse could be elucidated as ‘whoever lives out my catechism is my brother and sister and mother.’

Mary – The First Catechist

One cannot deny the fact that like all mothers Mary was the first to teach little Jesus. In that little house of Nazareth began the home catechesis of the Son of God. We could visualize Mary teaching the little Jesus about God’s love. At home began Christianity’s first catechism lesson by the first catechist, Mary. We have St. Paul writing to the Philippians:

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even on a cross.’ (Phil 2:5-8)

Jesus humbly learnt His first catechism lessons from His paragon catechist, Mary. Mary is not just a theoretical catechist but very realistic in her approach.

Mary – A Catechist who Intervenes

Mary is a catechist who intervenes in the life of Jesus. In John’s Gospel after apprising Jesus about the lack of wine (Jn 2:3), Mary instructs the servants with complete confidence, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ (Jn 2:5) She believes in practical catechesis. This characteristic of intervening in the life of the catechumen is of utmost importance. Like Mary, every catechist has a task to intervene in the day-to-day life of the catechumens, to help them live their Christian lives to the fullest.

Mary – A Catechist who Accompanies

Mary always accompanied Jesus even in His passion, death and resurrection. She was there present at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Mary was also present with the apostles in the upper room after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, ‘all were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.’ (Acts 1:14) Mary is a catechist who accompanies her children in all circumstances of life. All catechists have a vital message from Mary, to accompany the catechumen in their life journey.

Mary – Our Model Catechist

Jesus has entrusted His best catechist while he was hanging on the cross. Jesus tells John, ‘Here is your mother.’ (Jn 19:27) From that moment Mary becomes our Mother, our catechist. A motherly catechist, who teaches her child, intervenes and accompanies her/him through his/her life journey. Mary, our model catechist enlightens us with God’s love manifested in the catechism of the Catholic Church.

Article published in 'The Examiner', 5th September, 2009 (Vol 160, No 36)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Take Up and Read !

An energetic youth began his pursuit for pleasure and ended in the silence and recollection of a monastery. St. Augustine was an intellectual youngster who had messed up his life. His mother, St. Monica desired his conversion and followed him everywhere he went. One day, St. Augustine heard the voice of a small boy singing – ‘Tolle lege! Tolle lege!’ which translates as, ‘Take up and read! Take up and read!’ St. Augustine took the book of St. Paul’s epistles and read in silence. This was the moment of conversion in the September of 386 A.D. St. Augustine wrote two masterpieces which are among the classics of literature: ‘Confessions’ and ‘The City of God’. In the ‘Confessions’, St. Augustine, with the most sincere humility and contrition lays open the errors of his conduct during the early years of his life. The book ‘The City of God’ is a response of St. Augustine to the pagans who blamed Christianity for their plight.

In the year 391 A.D, the Catholics of Hippo in Africa forced St. Augustine to become a Priest. He wept throughout his ordination ceremony. In five years time he became a Bishop. What makes the life of St. Augustine so complete is that he fought the good fight, not only against himself, but also against the enemies of the Church in his time. Today, as we are immersed in our daily struggles with the ‘Worldly City’, St. Augustine beckons us to be part of the ‘City of God’.

Article published in 'The Examiner', 8th August, 2009 (Vol 160, No 32)

Inventory of a Trekker !

Every commerce student knows how important it is to keep an inventory. Every shopkeeper knows the value of making regular inventories lest the shopkeeper loses his/her customers. All of us know how important it is to take stock of much we have studied and how more we have to study before we appear for our exams. Also after writing an exam we reflect on how many marks we may get or lose. Now it is time to make an inventory of our lives! It is time to check up which path am I trekking. In case we are moving in the wrong direction then its time to look into our compass and pull ourselves in the right direction. This compass could be compared to the Church helping us to move in the right path. We are in this season of Lent and this is the right time to make an inventory of our lives. It means making a list of who we are in reality. It means having a peep at our brighter side and the darker side of our lives and to let the light of Christ shine.

St. Augustine has said, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Once we are able to look at ourselves and become aware of our strengths and weaknesses then we can move forward in taking small concrete steps to trek on the right path of happiness.

Article published in The Examiner, 4th April, 2009 (Vol 160, No 14)