Friday, October 04, 2002

BIBLICAL PRAYER FOR PEACE

Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that we may
walk the paths of the Most High. And we shall beat our
swords into ploughshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation--neither shall
they learn war any more. And none shall be afraid, for the
mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken.

October 4, Feast of St. Francis Of ASSISI

Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181 or 1182 -- the exact year is uncertain; died there, 3 October, 1226.

His father, Pietro Bernardone, was a wealthy Assisian cloth merchant. Of his mother, Pica, little is known, but she is said to have belonged to a noble family of Provence. Francis was one of several children. The legend that he was born in a stable dates from the fifteenth century only, and appears to have originated in the desire of certain writers to make his life resemble that of Christ. At baptism the saint received the name of Giovanni, which his father afterwards altered to Francesco, through fondness it would seem for France, whither business had led him at the time of his son's birth. In any case, since the child was renamed in infancy, the change can hardly have had anything to do with his aptitude for learning French, as some have thought.

Francis received some elementary instruction from the priests of St. George's at Assisi, though he learned more perhaps in the school of the Troubadours, who were just then making for refinement in Italy. However this may be, he was not very studious, and his literary education remained incomplete. Although associated with his father in trade, he showed little liking for a merchant's career, and his parents seemed to have indulged his every whim. Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, speaks in very severe terms of Francis's youth. Certain it is that the saint's early life gave no presage of the golden years that were to come. No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine clothes and showy display. Handsome, gay, gallant, and courteous, he soon became the prime favourite among the young nobles of Assisi, the foremost in every feat of arms, the leader of the civil revels, the very king of frolic. But even at this time Francis showed an instinctive sympathy with the poor, and though he spent money lavishly, it still flowed in such channels as to attest a princely magnanimity of spirit.

When about twenty, Francis went out with the townsmen to fight the Perugians in one of the petty skirmishes so frequent at that time between the rival cities. The Assisians were defeated on this occasion, and Francis, being among those taken prisoners, was held captive for more than a year in Perugia. A low fever which he there contracted appears to have turned his thoughts to the things of eternity; at least the emptiness of the life he had been leading came to him during that long illness. With returning health, however, Francis's eagerness after glory reawakened and his fancy wandered in search of victories; at length he resolved to embrace a military career, and circumstances seemed to favour his aspirations. A knight of Assisi was about to join "the gentle count", Walter of Brienne, who was then in arms in the Neapolitan States yyyyyy against the emperor, and Francis arranged to accompany him. His biographers tell us that the night before Francis set forth he had a strange dream, in which he saw a vast hall hung with armour all marked with the Cross. "These", said a voice, "are for you and your soldiers." "I know I shall be a great prince", exclaimed Francis exultingly, as he started for Apulia. But a second illness arrested his course at Spoleto. There, we are told, Francis had another dream in which the same voice bade him turn back to Assisi. He did so at once. This was in 1205.

Although Francis still joined at times in the noisy revels of his former comrades, his changed demeanour plainly showed that his heart was no longer with them; a yearning for the life of the spirit had already possessed it. His companions twitted Francis on his absent-mindedness and asked if he were minded to be married. "Yes", he replied, "I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness." She was no other than Lady Poverty whom Dante and Giotto have wedded to his name, and whom even now he had begun to love. After a short period of uncertainty he began to seek in prayer and solitude the answer to his call; he had already given up his gay attire and wasteful ways. One day, while crossing the Umbrian plain on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper. The sudden appearance of this repulsive object filled him with disgust and he instinctively retreated, but presently controlling his natural aversion he dismounted, embraced the unfortunate man, and gave him all the money he had. About the same time Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome. Pained at the miserly offerings he saw at the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse thereon. Then, as if to put his fastidious nature to the test, he exchanged clothes with a tattered mendicant and stood for the rest of the day fasting among the horde of beggars at the door of the basilica.

Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian's below the town, he heard a voice saying: "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father's shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian's. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son's conduct, and Francis, to avert his father's wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian's for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone's absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian's, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian's, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven.'" Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis's nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. "I am the herald of the great King", he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian's. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it. In the same way Francis afterwards restored two other deserted chapels, St. Peter's, some distance from the city, and St. Mary of the Angels, in the plain below it, at a spot called the Porziuncola. Meantime he redoubled his zeal in works of charity, more especially in nursing the lepers.

On a certain morning in 1208, probably 24 February, Francis was hearing Mass in the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, near which he had then built himself a hut; the Gospel of the day told how the disciples of Christ were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor scrip for their journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff, and that they were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and so soon as Mass was over threw away the poor fragment left him of the world's goods, his shoes, cloak, pilgrim staff, and empty wallet. At last he had found his vocation. Having obtained a coarse woolen tunic of "beast colour", the dress then worn by the poorest Umbrian peasants, and tied it round him with a knotted rope, Francis went forth at once exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. The Assisians had already ceased to scoff at Francis; they now paused in wonderment; his example even drew others to him. Bernard of Quintavalle, a magnate of the town, was the first to join Francis, and he was soon followed by Peter of Cattaneo, a well-known canon of the cathedral. In true spirit of religious enthusiasm, Francis repaired to the church of St. Nicholas and sought to learn God's will in their regard by thrice opening at random the book of the Gospels on the altar. Each time it opened at passages where Christ told His disciples to leave all things and follow Him. "This shall be our rule of life", exclaimed Francis, and led his companions to the public square, where they forthwith gave away all their belongings to the poor. After this they procured rough habits like that of Francis, and built themselves small huts near his at the Porziuncola. A few days later Giles, afterwards the great ecstatic and sayer of "good words", became the third follower of Francis. The little band divided and went about, two and two, making such an impression by their words and behaviour that before long several other disciples grouped themselves round Francis eager to share his poverty, among them being Sabatinus, vir bonus et justus, Moricus, who had belonged to the Crucigeri, John of Capella, who afterwards fell away, Philip "the Long", and four others of whom we know only the names. When the number of his companions had increased to eleven, Francis found it expedient to draw up a written rule for them. This first rule,as it is called, of the Friars Minor has not come down to us in its original form, but it appears to have been very short and simple, a mere adaptation of the Gospel precepts already selected by Francis for the guidance of his first companions, and which he desired to practice in all their perfection. When this rule was ready the Penitents of Assisi, as Francis and his followers styled themselves, set out for Rome to seek the approval of the Holy See, although as yet no such approbation was obligatory. There are differing accounts of Francis's reception by Innocent III. It seems, however, that Guido, Bishop of Assisi, who was then in Rome, commended Francis to Cardinal John of St. Paul, and that at the instance of the latter, the pope recalled the saint whose first overtures he had, as it appears, somewhat rudely rejected. Moreover, in site of the sinister predictions of others in the Sacred College, who regarded the mode of life proposed by Francis as unsafe and impracticable, Innocent, moved it is said by a dream in which he beheld the Poor Man of Assisi upholding the tottering Lateran, gave a verbal sanction to the rule submitted by Francis and granted the saint and his companions leave to preach repentance everywhere. Before leaving Rome they all received the ecclesiastical tonsure, Francis himself being ordained deacon later on.

After their return to Assisi, the Friars Minor -- for thus Francis had names his brethren, either after the minores, or lower classes, as some think, or as others believe, with reference to the Gospel (Matthew 25:40-45), and as a perpetual reminder of their humility -- found shelter in a deserted hut at Rivo Torto in the plain below the city, but were forced to abandon this poor abode by a rough peasant who drove in his ass upon them. About 1211 they obtained a permanent foothold near Assisi, through the generosity of the Benedictines of Monte Subasio, who gave them the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels or the Porziuncola. Adjoining this humble sanctuary, already dear to Francis, the first Franciscan convent was formed by the erection of a few small huts or cells of wattle, straw, and mud, and enclosed by a hedge. From this settlement, which became the cradle of the Franciscan Order (Caput et Mater Ordinis) and the central spot in the life of St. Francis, the Friars Minor went forth two by two exhorting the people of the surrounding country. Like children "careless of the day", they wandered from place to place singing in their joy, and calling themselves the Lord's minstrels. The wide world was their cloister; sleeping in haylofts, grottos, or church porches, they toiled with the labourers in the fields, and when none gave them work they would beg. In a short while Francis and his companions gained an immense influence, and men of different grades of life and ways of thought flocked to the order. Among the new recruits made about this time By Francis were the famous Three Companions, who afterwards wrote his life, namely: Angelus Tancredi, a noble cavalier; Leo, the saint's secretary and confessor; and Rufinus, a cousin of St. Clare; besides Juniper, "the renowned jester of the Lord".

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

News

RSS may put Ayodhya behind

Nagpur, 2 October

Rhetoric on Ayodhya or rubble-rousing may not be the leitmotif of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief K S Sudershan’s Vijaydashmi address this year. The RSS would start formally working on coordination among Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, knowledgeable sources said. In this context, RSS chief K S Sudershan may put things on record in larger perspective during his Vijayadashmi speech, sources said.

In effect, the Ayodhya conundrum may well be given a decent burial by the RSS chief even as Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia are going great guns over Mandir. “For quite some time now, Sudershan has been reinforcing his focus on coordination among diverse religious as well as casteist streams in Indian society. For example, there has been a remarkable emphasis on a mutually beneficial exchange between Hinduism and Buddhism ever since Sudershan took over. He is likely to espouse this ideological line and ask the Parivar, including its active offshoots like VHP, to work on this programme,” said RSS analyst Dilip Deodhar.

Observers point out that under the stewardship of Sudershan, the RSS does not anymore want the VHP to stick to the Ayodhya agenda as it believes the issue has exhausted itself. In fact, the VHP leaders, in particular Singhal, were asked to go slow on Ayodhya without entirely giving up the issue at a closed-door meeting in Lucknow some four months back, sources said. But Singhal is learnt to have refused to give in.

Yet, Sudershan is keen on putting Ayodhya behind and taking the organization ahead on the lines of second Sarsanghchalak Guruji Golwalkar, RSS observers said.

“Venkaiah Naidu’s sharp and prompt response to Singhal’s criticism of Vajpayee stems from this line of thinking within the Parivar. Advani also made it a point to share dais with Mayawati, the UP chief minister, indicating toward the element of eagerness within the Parivar to go closer to Dalits,” a knowledgeable source said. Invitation to Tibet’s Prime Minister in exile Prof. Samdong Rimpoche only accentuates this line, sources said.

A key indicator of the religious and social homogeneity, sources said, is the RSS conceding existence of Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism as independent dharmas (religions). It was not long ago that the RSS considered these three as streams originating from Hinduism only.

The change in Vijayadashmi programme schedule is significant only in one respect. It is for the first time in Nagpur that the RSS will not hold its pet meeting on Vijayadashmi on October 15.

For years, Dussera in Nagpur has held enormous significance to the saffron brigade as well as to the Buddhists. RSS’ Vijayadashmi conglomeration and the huge convergence of Buddhists at Deekshabhoomi (the religious center of the neo-Buddhists’ in Nagpur. Neo-Buddhists generally belong to the Dalit community.) on same day have always been regarded as ideological antitheses. This year, the RSS would set up its efforts to bridge the gulf between the two communities, by participating more actively in charitable endeavours at Deekshabhoomi like distribution of meals, sources said.


26 Week of the Year, Year II, Thursday

First Reading: Job 19: 21-27
Gospel: Lk 10: 1-12

In today’s gospel we have the mission guidelines of Jesus for the disciples. We may note a few important points:
1) Jesus says: “I am sending you”: It echoes Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “You didn’t choose me, I chose you”. The disciples are sent by Christ by his power and not their own. It applies to our lives too as followers of Christ.
2) “Carry no purse, no hoversack, no sandals.”: The attention of the preacher should be on the gospel message and not the peripherals. Nothing should be allowed to distract the preacher. Also trust in the providence of the sender.
3) “Peace be to this house”: The mission of the disciples begins with the message of peace. The disciples are primarily harbingers of peace.
4) “As lambs among Wolves”: The mission is going to be difficult. Opposition is bound to come. If the message is delivered effectively persecutions will come.
5) “If they do not welcome you, go out into the streets”: Jesus warns his disciples of not forcing the gospel down people’s throat. They are asked to respect their freedom. But do not forget to leave the message of the Kingdom with them.

The preacher should have a job-like confidence in the Lord even he/she is rejected: “I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”
October 2, Gandhi Jayanti

We Christians who consider a saint as one who lived the two-fold commandment of Love of God and Love of Neighbour. If this is the criterion used to declare someone as a saint, by the same standard Gandhi would be called St. Mahatama Gandhi. In fact, he would be one of the great saints the world has ever seen. The future generations hearing the heroic life of this saint would wonder if such a man ever existed in flesh and blood like ours.

On Gandhi Jayanti day (on his Birthday), October 2nd, leaders go to his Samadhi at Rajghat to offer floral tributes. But these tributes are devoid of meaning in so far as they do not adhere to his noble principles. Today, no leader would seem to have the right to garland his statues while they trample underfoot the principles for which he sacrificed his life.

Monday, September 30, 2002

October 1, Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux (of Child Jesus)

A French girl entered a convent at a very young age; she died at 23. This happened on September 30, 1897. Within a few years she was known all over the world. Not quite 28 years later, on May 17, 1925, she was canonized a Saint for the universal Church. This is the remarkable success story of Marie Francoise Therese Martin, now often referred to as ‘The Little Flower’.

Therese struggled with questions that are still relevant today: What is the purpose of existence? What happens at death? Will there be an after life? How can we reconcile human loneliness and smallness with our desire to be great and worthwhile? We are told she was as radical in facing such questions as her contemporaries Dostoyevski, Nietzsche, Claudel and Freud.

At times it would seem she was perfectly in the company of a pessimist French Philosopher like Jean Paul Sartre. In the midst of her sickness a mist of doubt and uncertainty engulfed her. “I can’t believe any more in eternal life,” she said. “It seems to me that after this mortal life nothing will remain. I have lost everything.”

At other times she was in the company of an optimist Philosopher like Gabriel Marcel, whose metaphysic of hope echoes her views. In the face of existential dilemmas, Therese knowingly and happily opted for a complete surrender to God in faith. Her autobiography is the candid testimony of a great person. A unique example of how faith can be lived with intensity and depth in a seemingly short and insignificant human life.

She called herself “the Little Flower”. She did so deliberately expressing at once her purpose in life and her place in God’s plan. “It pleases Him to create great saints, who may be compared with lilies or the rose; but he has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets nestling at his feet to delight his eyes when he should choose to look at them.” But she wrote: “Every flower he has created has a beauty of its own.”

To remain small means to acknowledge one’s own nothingness. It is to expect everything form the Good Lord.