My First Love

Laura (not her real name) was my first Christmas child in Africa.  She was seated on a bench outside the church with her friends.  I went and sat next to her.  We were total strangers to each other.  She smiled and slowly took my hands in hers.  She didn’t say a word and neither did I.  We sat there for a while without uttering a word.  I felt good.  Imagine that was my first day in Africa.  A missionary in a far- away land made to feel at home by a child.  What a great gesture!  What a sacred moment.  I said to myself, “I am blessed, am no more a stranger in Africa because I have a friend”.  Gradually we became good friends.  Laura was in class three.  She was the only child of a single mother. Her mother was a government employee and an alcoholic.  Laura used to share her story with me.   She was a victim of verbal and physical abuse.  One day I saw her with some bruises on her face and the left eye.  Initially she wanted to avoid telling me the truth.  Later on she said that she was beaten up by her mother and as she fell to the ground her mother climbed and stood over her.  Then jovially she added, at times to escape the  beatings I pretend as dead and then Mum used to leave me alone”.

Laura lives on the second floor of a government quarters with her Mum.  On a Sunday she invited me to her house for a lunch.  As we were walking towards her home suddenly she went into a shop and bought some meat.  Once home, she cooked rice and meat for lunch.  I remember still the meal we shared together.  It was in the year 1999.  I remember well how she accompanied me up to the main road as I left her home. Though she was only a child of nine years her maturity level was that of an adult.  I believe the harsh realities of life can make a person mature prematurely.   After a couple of years I was transferred to some far- away place and lost touch with Laura.  Later on a friend of Laura told me she is in a boarding school and is about to finish her secondary.  However, I used to remember with love, Laura and her hospitality.

A missionary has no permanent abode.  He goes where he is sent, where he is needed most.  Now back in Laura’s township once again I started the search for my First loveHow can I forget Laura?  Her innocent smile! Her hospitality!  Her jokes!  By the way her second name is Washinga!  So I asked her one day how come your name is Washinga?  With a smile she told me that she was born when her mom was washing the clothes!! Do you know my Laura, Have you seen my Laura, I asked people in vainI was not ready to give up my search.  I believe in the providence.  I know nothing ever happens by chance.  I believe everything is in the plan of God.  And then one day I got in touch with a person who said she knows Laura and where she lived.  I requested her to give Laura a simple message: “Father James would love to see you”. 

Laura is into drinking and prostitution and I don’t think she will come to see you.  I was literally shocked to hear it.  I didn’t want to believe my ears.  Jesus Christ, I said, my Laura is into..No..no way..it is not possible.  I know her as a child..She can’t..she won’t ..I was lost for words.  It is interesting to see how love can blind you.  I knew Laura as a child.  Now she is a young lady.  I am not ready to accept the fact that people change and people can change!! My stupidity?  I stood still.  I was quiet.  Will she come?  Will she not come?  An inner voice said, Of course Laura will come to see you.  In any case, I said; please tell Laura, Father James would love to see you. 

On a fine morning after about ten days I was told that I have a visitor.  Lo and behold it was Laura.  We greeted each other with a customary embrace.  I removed an album from the shelf and showed the photograph I had taken in 1998.  She was pleasantly surprised.  She looked at the photo once again and smiled.  Today Laura is a mother of two children.  Yes, two children from two men.  She told me that her mom died and she was evicted from the government quarters.  Since she had nowhere to go she moved in with a guy whom she thought loved her.  Somehow it did not work out and then she got entangled with another guy.  That too did not work out well for her.  Now she lives with her two children. A single mother like her mom!

I intend to invite Laura with her children for Christmas to my place.  I know that life was and is tough out there for her.  I have to find ways and means to help rebuild her life if that is what she wants.  I want to see that her children get a good education.  I want to see her as a responsible mom.   I feel pained to see her in the condition she is in today.  She is not just a number in the statistics.  She is a person with flesh and blood like you and me.  She has a human face.    She has a name.  She is Laura.  .  She is a human incarnation. 

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year- happiest of all seasons for me.  I love the joy and the warmth of the season.  Christmas means so much to me.   The memories of cribs and carols.   Memories and memories.  Life is made up of memories. The memories I cherish and hold dear.  Every Christmas reminds me of God’s unconditional love for us.  God in human form and condition, weak, vulnerable, exposed.  This is the incarnation we celebrate.   This is a celebration of life, a celebration of joy.   Yes my life and your life.  Now we are invited to share this joy that our joy may be complete.    I am grateful to my God and humanity.   I am grateful to Laura, my First Love.  She is my Christmas gift this year.  Dear Friends, I wish you all the joy of Incarnation.

                                                                                                            Fr. James Mailady Svd

 

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TOURING ANGELS

 

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Two travelling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family.  The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guestroom.  Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement.  As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it.  When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied: “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

The next night, the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor but very hospitable farmer and his wife.  After sharing what little they had, the couple let the angels sleep in their bed, where they could have a good night’s rest.  When the sun came up next morning, the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears.  Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole source of income, lay dead in the field.  The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel: “How could you let this happen?  The first man had everything, yet you helped him,” she accused.  “The second had little but was willing to share everything and you let the cow die.”

“Things aren’t always what they seem,” the older angel replied.  When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall.  Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t find it.  Then last night, when we slept in the farmer’s bed, the angel of death came for his wife.  I gave him the cow instead.  “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

A friend of mine gave me this story and asked to share it with others.  Indeed it is a thought provoking story.  We humans, as you know, have a tendency to judge things and people by appearances.    In fact some of us may say, it is not our fault because it is in our genes!  Holding on to excuses like this, is a way of washing the hands as Pilate did.  Pilate can be excused because he did it only once; whereas, in our case, we do it often.  (Please feel free to disagree)

As enlightened humans we have to be extremely careful to avoid this temptation to make rash judgments based on appearances.  One of the reasons for this is our biases and prejudices.  In the long run, it can become our second nature, if we don’t watch out.  They have the power to condition our thinking and our behavior.  They can block our vision and distort the reality.  They can change our attitudes and mindset.  As a result, our judgments can be wrong and we lose a potential friend.  Hence the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Remember the words of Jesus, “Do not keep judging according to appearances; let your judgment be according to what is right.” (Jn 7:24)  I think (I really do) Jesus was probably the most misunderstood man on earth.  In fact who has understood him well?  Even today, we interpret, misinterpret, judge and misjudge him.  As a human being, one of the biggest frustrations of Jesus might have been the pain of being never understood.  People, even his closest friends, might have written him off as a total failure at the crucifixion when they shouted, “Now come down from the cross and save yourself.”  (Mk 15:30)  It might have looked like the end to many, but the truth was different.  So, when things don’t happen our way, when we feel we are treated harshly, when we are about to give up, let us remember the words of the older angel, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

                                                                                                                                                                James Mailady

I can still recall the hour my father told me
It was time to let it go.
Though its mended wing had made it sing
He said the bird I cared for was not really mine.
“Let it go…” “Letting go,” he said,
“Seems to break your heart.
Though it will heal it feels slow to start.”
Though the pain burned within me so,
He held me tight, so I could let it go.

There’s so much of life that can’t be lived
When you’re still holding on to hate and anger deep inside-
“Let it go.”
Letting go opens up the heart.
There is a new day hungry to start.
You can’t change what has hurt you so,
But you will heal if you can let it go.

All that’s wrong in your life….
Let it go.
All that is worth saving is Love…
Love will hold you tight.
Love lifts the burden and
Love shines the light.
Only love nourishes us so;
If it’s not love, then simply
Let it go.
-McLean& John Batdorf

I love this poem for its beauty and simplicity. The message is crystal clear, “Let it go.” Learning to let go can be a tedious and painful exercise in self-discipline. But at the same time it can also be a liberating experience of true freedom. I honestly believe that learning to let go is a prerequisite for personal growth, a sound mental health and peace of mind. In order to grow and develop as a mature human being, I need a reasonable understanding of myself. Knowingly or un-knowingly , I carry along what the psychologists call “emotional baggage”, into every relationship. They could be feelings of bitterness, anger, revenge, hatred and guilt. When I allow these negative feelings to dominate my life, they can hinder my personal, psychological and spiritual growth. It can destroy relationships and my physical and mental health.
The cynic in me may say, “Great, sounds great. It is a wonderful idea but experiences of the past cannot be ignored.” Hence it may be good to ask one-self, “Why am I afraid to let go? What prevents me from doing so?” Some of the reasons could be:
-I had been hurt in the past hence I don’t want to be hurt again.
-I lack humility and surrender is difficult.
-I have somebody to blame hence I don’t have to take responsibility.
-I may be afraid of the vacuum created if I do not know how to fill it.
-I convince myself that I am in this ‘holy shit’ because of everybody else.
-I really don’t want to grow..coz. it hurts..so I stop where it hurts.
-Finally I believe, I have to make a leap of faith. Hence if I don’t believe in the unconditional love of God, to let go is not easy.

Passing the buck does not help me. If I give God a chance to work in and through me, I believe it will be easier to “Let go”! Give a try..you have nothing to loose!!
James Mailady.

LET IT GO

FORGIVENESS

 

Jesus Forgives

Ernest Hemingway, in his short story, “The Capital of the World,” tells the story about a father and his teenage son who lives in Spain.  Their relationship became strained, eventually shattered and the son ran away from home.  The father began a long journey in search of the lost and rebellious son, finally putting an ad in the Madrid newspaper as a last resort.  His son’s name was Paco.  The ad simply read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon.  All is forgiven.  I love you.”   As Hemingway writes, the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office, there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.

I believe forgiveness is something that everyone has to deal with, at one time or another in life.  The “experts” speak about the importance of forgiving oneself and others.  The “psychologists” speak of forgiveness as a healing journey for the body and soul.  As we know, feelings of shame, guilt, remorse, etc. if unresolved, can affect our physical and mental health.  In the same way, anger and resentment can be roadblocks to forgiveness and peace.  Here I see forgiveness as a path to peace, inner freedom and sound physical and mental health.

It is said that “to err is human but to forgive is divine.”  You may say, it is all well to speak about forgiveness- but to do it?  It is easier said than done, right?  Forgiveness is difficult especially when the pain is deep.  Deep down in your heart, you may know and believe that to forgive is to set your-self free.  In spite of all the goodwill, you may not be able to let go and do it because of the roadblocks you may encounter on the way to forgiveness.  If you are not conscious of its harmful consequences, they can destroy your emotional and physical wellbeing.  A sound physical and psychological health depends on our ability to forgive.  But we must learn the art of forgiveness for our own good.  When we forgive, we set ourselves free and we are the first ones to benefit from our act of forgiveness.

Jesus is the perfect example of forgiveness.  He practiced what he preached.  Not only did he teach unconditional forgiveness, he also did forgive his slanderers and tormentors.  “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 22:34(.  Probably, Jesus found it easy to forgive, because he was able to see our failed humanity.  So, I believe, forgiveness might become easy when I am able to discover the humanity of the person who wronged me.  I forgive not to avoid pain but to heal pain.  I believe, in order to do that, I need to reach a certain amount of moral and spiritual maturity and freedom.  Remember that there are countless “Pacos” out in the world, just waiting for you and me to reach out and forgive.  May you be blessed in your efforts to reach out to all the Pacos in your life.

                                                                                                                                                                James Mailady.

DIE COOL

               Death is the law of nature. We are born to die. Yet still, the thought of death frightens people. I remember while speaking about death, a friend of mine once said, “You mean to say that everything, everything comes to an end. No, No, that is too much.” It is only the living, that can reflect about death but they seldom do it. If there is one thing that is certain in life is death but still people do not feel the need to talk about it, reflect about it or least of all prepare for it. It could be that since it is certain, since we can’t avoid it why waste time thinking about it. Life, somehow we know it, since we are in it. But when it comes to death we can only imagine things and probably make some wild guess at best. As for me, I have no first- hand experience and am no expert on the subject. However, it doesn’t stop me from reflecting about it and in fact I am curious about it. Just to know what is on the other side, if it is on the other side!   I personally feel that if we are prudent, we can all have a very happy-ending to our existence here on earth.

Emily died very young. She was only nine years old. I happened to know Emily for a while. She was cute, loving, and affectionate. One day she fell ill suddenly of an unknown disease. Since the parents were poor, Emily could not get the best medical help. Nobody even knew the name of the sickness. However, Emily’s mom, dad and her younger sister Naaz were all around her, assuring her of their unconditional love for her. I too was standing by her bedside as an observer. Deep down inside me I felt none of us could really help Emily to face death. She had to face it alone. Emily looked angelic and her face was radiant.   It is said, that the valiant never dies but once! As in her suffering, even in her death, Emily was a valiant.   I was deeply disturbed, by the fact that none of us could help Emily in her death.

All at once, the figure of Jesus on the cross at Calvary flashed through my mind. Jesus, God-man, beloved of the Father, feels abandoned at Calvary. His mother Mary and a couple of his loved ones stood by him at the foot of the cross. But it didn’t seem to help him. In his last struggle he cried out “my God, my God, why did you abandon me?” It seems to me that God was making a point here. Death is a battle and you are alone in it. It is the last battle on this earth and it is a personal battle. You are alone in the ring with the opponent. It is a one to one show down.   Friends and enemies can all stand around and cheer you or jeer at you. They can’t do much more than that and hence it is good to be prepared so that you are not caught unawares. Jesus warns us saying, “No one knows the hour, be on watch.” (Mk.13/32)

I remember my last visit to my novice master who was on his deathbed. I entered his room and stood by his bedside. In his characteristic sense of humor, he said, “James, can you please sit down? I don’t like people looking down on me”.  I said to myself, this gentleman is great. He had his sense of humor intact, even on his deathbed. He had taught me the art of meditation, contemplation and inward laughter! I had good memories.   I felt proud of my novice master! In his own way, he had won victory over death and its power to hurt. You are hurt when you are weak. Nobody can hurt a strong man. Of course, my novice master was a holy man who lived a hermit’s life for about thirty years! He had done his homework and he had it cool.

My father died on the9th of July 2015 at the age of 105. Even at that age, his memory was perfect and sense of humor intact. He had a very deep desire that I should be the one to bury him. He had it expressed very clearly the day I left for the African missions eighteen years ago and used to remind me about it every time I went home on holidays. He was a man of prayer and deep faith. I have not heard him complain and he had a word of encouragement for everyone.   I was with him for a week before he died. I remember he told me that he is happy that I am home, he is too tired and it is time for him to go. Lo and behold after about three days he had a smooth passing over. I believe, the secret of such happy-ending was his life of prayer, his sense of humor and of course his dose of whisky, which never failed him! I don’t know whether he opened his eyes to see who is burying him.   After the funeral a friend of mine said to me that on a visit to my father one day, my father told him “ I will hold on till my son comes back from Africa” and indeed he did it!   The valiant never dies but once!

I believe, for a cool death we need a lifelong preparation just like any other great events in life. A cool death is the privilege of a contented person, one who was happy with what life had to offer. It is the reward of a person, who has lived a grateful life. Yes, a life of gratitude to God and humanity. It comes easy to a person who has constantly learned to “let go” in life. The final ‘let go’ becomes a smooth landing. It comes natural to a person who lived his life on earth as a pilgrim. A pilgrim knows that he is a passerby and hence now he is going home and going home is always cool.   It is cool for a person who was never possessive in life. A cool death is the culmination of a life lived for others, who always believed in giving rather than receiving.   And for a true believer, a cool passing over! Hence if you do your homework and have a smart life (not a smart phone) endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, you can die cool.   You are the winner and you can have the last laugh.

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                                                                                                                              James Mailady.

FATHER, I WANT TO DIE

Elnino is her name. People say she was born during the Elnino. She is seven years old. She is innocent. She is also pretty. I like her angelic smile. The other day she stopped me on the road, brought a small baby goat and said, “Take it, it is yours.” “Keep it for me, I shall take it later,” I told her. I am told that she didn’t allow anyone to touch ‘Fathers’ baby goat’.

Mama Elnino is in her forties. Her husband is a wandering Aramaean. Now Mama Elnino does not live with him. You know many of these husbands- right? From experience, people say it is not worth living with them even for a day. I know it is a bit of an exaggeration though there is some truth in it. In our people’s culture, the duty of the husband is to keep the progeny alive. I should acknowledge they are quite faithful to this task! By the way it is nothing personal ! In family life the beast of the burden is the Mama (mother). It is her duty to build the house, look for food, fetch water and the firewood, look after the children and the animals etc. So naturally when you are on the spot and see the struggles of the mama, you would automatically be a feminist like me. I support and encourage our mamas in their struggle for a second liberation.

Hence I was not surprised when Mama Elnino told me, “Father, I want to die.” My immediate reaction was what is the big deal in it? Even I want to die, but I did not tell her. By seeing Elnino standing next to her with tears in her eyes I said, ‘Mama please don’t say like this in front of your child.’ Now for your information Mama Elnino is an alcoholic and she had tried to commit suicide a couple of times. By the way I like alcoholics. I like them because they are honest people and tell the truth especially when they are drunk. Once drunk they muster the courage to say what they want to say which otherwise they cannot. Honestly speaking I have a couple of alcoholic mamas as friends. Once a while they shower mw with cocktail smooches! I don’t normally resist it because they are interdenominational and ecumenical in nature!

Probably Mama Elnino and myself we belong to the mutual admiration club!   Somehow, she knows I care about her and I know she feels comfortable in my presence. I remember the many times she told me, “Father, I am a poor woman. I have no money. I make chang’aa( a local drink) and sell. I am a poor woman.   I want to die.” Then she cries like a child. She never felt ashamed to cry before me. Then through her tears, she would say the most amazing thing. She would say, ‘Father, God is there. He will not desert me.” As a wounded healer, I reach out and give her a hug and a squeeze. Since it is therapeutic, she goes home comforted.

As I watch her walking away from me, I felt her pain inside my being. I felt angry about the inhumanity of the so-called human society. I felt ashamed to belong to such a cruel and heartless breed of humans. I felt bitter about the traditions and customs that enslave our people. I felt saddened by their plight and the way they are trampled upon even today. For many like Mama Elnino life is a slow and constant death. Both physical and emotional but never spiritual. I felt humbled by her faith. For once again, I became deeply aware of my human limitations, my helplessness. I felt weak, frigid. I freeze.

Here I have to confess, I too entertain the thought of death. Normal, abnormal, I don’t know. I want to die not because I am disappointed or frustrated in my life and work. Far from it. I am a happy, contented bush missionary. All I ever wanted to be. I want to die because I am happy. I want to die because I am blessed. My prayer today is like that of Simeon, “Now Lord, let your servant go in peace for he has seen enough!”

                                                                                                                                   James Mailady.

              MISSIONARY DOING VS BEING

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The other day a seminarian came to visit me in the village mission where I live.  Coming from a city, equipped with all the modern gadgets, his first question was, “what are you doing here, the whole day?”  “As a matter of fact, nothing much”, I told him casually.  Probably he was a bit surprised or shocked.  His simple reaction was that, “there is nothing to do here anyway!” I was reminded of this joke at that time.  In a cartoon, a young man tells the pastor, “Being a pastor must be really hard.  I mean, living for others, leading an exemplary life.  That’s a lot of responsibility.  The pressure must be tremendous! Having to set a good example, people watching, waiting for one false move, a sign of human frailty they can jump on! Oh, I don’t know how you handle it!”  Finally, the pastor sheepishly says, “I stay home a lot.”  In-fact this is what I do.

Being a missionary means many things to many people. For some missionary is a person who is busy doing all sorts of things from dawn to dusk, let us say a jack of all trades.  For others a missionary is someone who is busy with applications and projects and projects and applications, a master builder.  Yet for others a missionary is someone who is busy baptizing, marrying and burying people, a real pastor.  It is all about doing something, keeping oneself busy and occupied.  Missionary is like a hero in an action packed blockbuster Bollywood movie.  Absolutely nothing is wrong with it.  But it is all about DOING.  (By the way, I have my own pretty- small projects close to my heart).

It is all good and praiseworthy, no doubt about that.  At the same time, I wonder whether it is the essence of being a missionary.  For me personally, the missionary presence (BEING) is more important than the missionary doings.  Today more than ever, I am convinced that the missionary presence has a tremendous witness value and it is the need of the hour.  Here it is worth remembering what St. Francis of Assisi had to say to his followers; “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words!”  If only a missionary can become and be seen as a (wo)man of God (for a change) I think the mission is already accomplished.

It looks to me it is all a matter of perspective.  In this context, I remember a conversation between a tree and a monkey.  The tree says to the monkey, “You mean to say that you go from place the whole day, the whole life without staying in one place?  I don’t understand.”  Then the monkey says to the tree, “You mean to say that you stay in one place the whole day, the whole life without going around?  I don’t understand.”  From the monkey’s perspective it is impossible to understand the tree and vice versa.

So, if you have a missionary perspective you can easily understand what I am trying to say here. Basically missionary is a (wo)man of God. Your presence as a missionary is a holy presence, a loving presence.  It is a healing presence.  It is a peaceful presence.  It is a powerful presence.  And it is a contagious presence.  It is a constant assurance of your love.  It strengthens relationships.  It helps out bring the best in people.  This was Jesus’ mission and it is our mission today.  Your simple and humble presence should touch and transform lives.  People should be your projects.  Invest your time, talents and energy in people.  Be part of people’s lives. Get to know their joys and sorrows.  Share your people’s hunger and loneliness.  Let the people feel your presence.  Believe in the power of your presence.  You will be amazed to see how people cherish and value your presence.

I remember very clearly, it was a Christmas eve.  I was driving to visit a family nearby.  All of a sudden, Susan stopped me on the road and asked, “Father, are you coming back?”  I said, “Yes, of course Susan”.  Beaming with joy she ran back home like a little child, excited about the fact that Father will be there’ in the village for Christmas.  This image will stay with me for the rest of my life.  Yes, I shall cherish that moment, Susan’s lovely face in the evening light.  And for those who do not know Susan, she is a mother of two lovely kids.  Though she prayed at another church, she was my immediate neighbor in the village.  Susan did not come back to me that night with a cake singing “Silent night” as you may have expected.

                                                      James Mailady svd.

WHERE ARE THE OTHER 99?

cropped-christmas-card-20161.jpgOn the New Year’s eve Magi sent me a message.  It read: “You are one of those who have helped me believe in myself, one of those who have touched my life.  I am grateful and I thank God for you.”  I felt good, in fact very good.  I indulged myself in vanity of vanities !  For a moment I forgot that I am a believer of “nishkama karma.” (Nishkama karma simply means actions without expecting rewards).  I had to remind myself that I am still a religious who had renounced the world long ago.  It shows that I have not yet reached the spiritual heights I am pursuing or it could also mean that I am still human and hungry for love and appreciation.

However, this simple text message triggered a chain of thoughts and memories.  I rolled back my memory to good old childhood days for a while.  My mom used to tell us children that for her, this present life was not enough to be grateful to God for His blessings in her life.  She was a simple woman with simple thoughts.  In her simplicity she used to give her own example saying, “I have eight children; all of them are in good health of mind and body-none of them is blind, deaf, dumb or disabled in any way.  This blessing alone is enough, she used to say, to be grateful to God for the rest of her life.”  Today, it looks like I have inherited this attitude of gratitude from my mom.  As people say, it is all in the genes, right?  If there is one attitude that fills my heart most of my life, it is one of gratitude to God and humanity. 

As a missionary for about three decades, there is this one incident that I cannot forget.  It is interesting because it happened some 25 years ago and is still fresh in my mind.  I was in a village mission, back in India.  The entire parish had only two catholic families!  Regular house visits was part of our daily schedule.  We visited all the families irrespective of their religion or tribe.  Over the years we had established a very affectionate human bond with these families.  Then it so happened that one of the families decided to migrate to a far-away village and the time came to bid farewell.  The young daughter-in-law of the family, a Hindu, came to the parish, tears rolling down her cheeks, and gave me a warm embrace and murmured into my ears, “Thank you Father.”  The best embrace ever and I can still visualize it.  I thanked my God that day.

Today I understand Jesus better when he asked, where are the other nine? (Lk.17/17).  You understand what I mean?  I think we humans have a problem here.  We have a short memory when it comes to favors received.  Be it from God or fellow humans.  I am still wondering why Jesus left it with that question without condemning such an act of ingratitude.  As his custom was, I would have expected him to give them a piece of his mind on manners!  I am sure, Jesus had some good reasons for not doing so.  It is not that if all had come back it would have boosted his morale and his image and rating would have gone up the chart.  Far from it. 

It could be that he knew them from inside out.  I think that is the point.  When we know someone from inside out, it is easy for us to close our eyes.  In this context I remember a joke.  One of the monks was complaining to the abbot about another monk who persistently broke a particular rule.  The abbot was quiet.  The monk continued, saying that we cannot close our eyes to such a behavior because God has given us eyes.  Then the abbot added: “the same God has given us eye lids too.” 

Personally I feel we need to practice the art of nishkama karma for our own good mental health.  I say this because I have come across people who are bitter for life just because of the 99 who did not come back!  Of course I understand and respect their feelings.  But the hundred dollar question is: does it help you in any way?  It does not.  Your purpose in life is to grow and develop as a beautiful human being.  Bitterness is a negative energy.  It pollutes the atmosphere.  Your bitterness is against the spirit of the integrity of creation and it is not eco-friendly.  And above all it can damage your ozone layer!  So better take care.

THE WONDER OF INCARNATION

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From the Wilderness

One day a child was asked to explain God by his moral science teacher.  The child said, “God’s main job is to make people, especially to replace the dead ones.  He doesn’t make big people- he makes babies, coz. it is easier to make.”   Just cute, isn’t it?  Yes, I believe God continues to make babies, babies of all sizes and shapes and colors.  And that’s why we have Christmas.  Christmas is all about babies..Jesus the baby and all other babies.  I love children.  I love them for their innocence, simplicity and spontaniety.  I love them for their openness to learn.  I love them for the way they trust others.  I love them for the way they can give and receive love . I love them for their ability to forgive and forget.  I love them for the way they can laugh and cry.  I love them for they are lovable and adorable.  I love them for they are incarnations of the Divine, manifested in flesh and blood so that you and me can touch and feel..experience the Divine.  I love them because every child has the potency to lead us to the Divine.

The other day I punished Joy, a four year old for throwing a banana peal in front of the hosue.   Both of us were stubborn.  I wanted her to pick up the banana peal and she refused to pick it up.  Hearing the comotion Joy’s mother came to see what’s happening.  Joy cried louder and louder when she saw her mom. I explained to Joy’s mom what happened and I told her that I want Joy to pick up the banana peal.  Joy’s mom picked up the banana peal instead of Joy.  With a long face Joy walked away with her mom.  Lo and behold, after a few minutes Joy comes back with a smile, takes my hand and asks me to take her for a walk !  I gave Joy a bear hug.  Joy was back to normal..all is forgiven and forgotten.  I experienced the manifestation of the Divine in Joy’s Humanity. 

Incarnation is an expression of God’s unconditional love for humanity.  Incarnation happens in the person of Jesus.  Jesus incarnate is love incarnate.  Jesus is love in person.  By incarnation Jesus became one of us- a flesh and blood human being.  And by this act, Jesus brings Divinity into our Humanity.  So we can say, incarnation is all about giving birth to this Divinity in our Humanity.  This is our call, this is our vocation and this should be the purpose of our life.  Human life has acquired a greater meaning because of Jesus’ incarnation.  Jesus literally pitches his tent among us and He wants to get involved in our lives.  It’s a beautiful way of saying how much God loves and cares about us.  I believe every birth of a child is an incarnation.  Incarnation will always be there as long as children are being born.  For every child is a manifestation of the Divine in Human form.  Every child is a Divine child.

As I was leaving a parish after a short stay, the children came to say farewell to me.  They were about ten to 12 of them, all in the age bracket of five to 13.  All of them stood at a distance.   One of them came closer to me and said, “On behalf of my friends I would like to give you a gift”.  She asked me to bend down a bit, she caught my head in her hands and planted two kisses  on my cheeks!  All the children had a hearty laugh. I loved it.  Mind you, she had not come to me earlier for practice!  I was so touched  by such a spontaneous show of affection.  I knew Adella.  She was the most talkative and affectionate among them all.  She always loved holding my hands as we walked and talked.  As Adella walked away from me without a word that day, I could see tears in her eyes.  Touched by Adella’s Divinity I wept in my humanity that night.

Christmas story is the simplest of all stories.  A child is born.  He is called Emmanuel- God with us and for us.  God with a human face, born in flesh and blood into real human condition…marked by poverty, scandal, corruption, rejection, human trafficking and homelessness.  The story continues..nothing much has changed except for the characters.  The multinationals have taken up the marketing of Christmas today.  They have changed the product, stratagies and marketing style.   Jesus is being sidelined. The shepherds have lost their jobs to retrenchment. The angels are sent home on compulsory leave.    Mary and Joseph are forced to retire.  Today what is available in the market for Christmas is smart fones, fast food and beauty products that help to increase or reduce the size.  We are all victims of a digital world.   We have lost the radicality of incarnation.   I hope and pray they don’t throw the baby with the tub!

What is my response?  Do I have the courage to embrace the child?  To make him/her my own?  As a religious, as a missionary, am I giving birth to the Divinity in my Humanity?  Am I helping others to give birth to their Divinity in their own Humanity?   Or am I  like that little boy who was overheard praying, “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about   it.  I am having a real good time like I am.”  Have a Blessed Christmas!!  

                                                                                                                                                James Mailady.