Sunday, March 20, 2016

Joy and Piety

As a cradle Catholic, I've grown up in a spiritual family that spans races, cultures and languages and listening to many similar and contrarian views about what constitutes true piety and whether one can be both pious and joyful at the same time, this article is to expound a less known trait of true piety - Joy. The question may be asked - what constitutes true happiness and what makes you or me happy. A cheerful nature attracts and helps foster growth and developing good relationships. A sense of humour helps one tide over adversities and struggles in life. There is a saying that without humour one is like a vehicle rolling over rocky terrain getting bumped up and down endlessly. Humour make the journey of life richer despite the struggles - the troughs which all people necessarily go through at some point.

Religious practice does mean considerable discipline and human effort. There comes to mind images of parents and elders telling younger members in the faith with a stern face "say your Rosary" or "put away your phone, we're entering a Church". Many of us grow up with a false notion that religious are sad, gloomy, uncool and downright boring, but this is simply not true. At the surface, it may seem so but when you drink deep of the Sancta Fe, literally translated the "Holy Faith", you realise a sense of humour in the holiest and most adversely suffering servants of Christ, needless to say the Lord himself.

A leading example of this holy joy is the apostle Paul. A man who as he says in his second letter to the Coritnhians, chapter 11:
24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

 This man, wrote the letter to the Philippians from the prison in Rome while facing a death sentence, a letter that speaks of joy several times. I became consciously aware of joy in this letter, through attending a session by Anand Pillai, a man born into Hinduism, rated as one of the top 10 influencers in India and among the top 50 in the world and now a believer in Christ and the Gospel. This man survived the loss of his father and mother in a closely knit family within a span of few years. Driven to despair, he picked up the New Testament out of curiosity and the rest of his life is a living testimony of the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ. Being no stranger to suffering in his own life in various ways, this man bears witness to Joy in the midst of suffering.

Going back to the first century Rome, where Paul and several others like him suffered extreme pain, loss and suffering under a Roman regime that opposed the Christian faith and denied them the basic freedom of worship. Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 1, verse 4 of his letter:

I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

And again in verse 18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice

Here is a man who not only has come to terms with suffering in his life, he is at this point not wallowing in self-pity, but writing to people in Philippi a joyful letter of encouragement, unashamed of his suffering for a just cause. Therefore my dear friends, I'd like to emphasize this lesser know aspect of true piety - a joy unlike the passing joys of this world. A joy which no money can buy. A joy of knowing you are right with God and with people despite what has passed and what may come in the future. We enter into the holy week where we meditate on the Passion of our Lord Christ. Let us always remember that without the cross, there would not have been a Resurrection and the joy in the Lord who has overcome sin, death, evil and sorrow for ever and given suffering a new, Redeeming power and meaning; this Lord is with us and is the source of eternal joy. Amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New hobby: Gardening

Since I started my entrepreneurial journey four months back, I've found it very relaxing to garden as a break from typing away at a computer. We engineers are accustomed to living in a world of man-made wonders. Technology makes everything available to us instantly and at a deeper level, if we really introspect, we will likely realize that tech can make us less patient. When gardening, one realizes that not everything depends on us. All you do is prepare the soil, plant the seed and water the plant. The actual growth does not depend on you, but on the way nature has been programmed, the way the divine Designer set it up to be. Gardening has taught me patience and the value of waiting on the Lord to bring my efforts to fruit. It takes days and weeks since the soil is prepared and the seed sown, for the plant to come up and grow.

I initially had a very boring view outside my window while I worked - a plain concrete balcony. My fourfold strategy to make it green was:

  1. Potted plants elevated by placing on a ledge - visible from inside and outside
  2. Hanging pots to grace the higher regions
  3. Plants laid out in corner triangular sections - architectural pots forming part of the balcony itself
  4. Creepers from the ground floor garden guided up to the balcony
I had all the material to set up the potted plants - the potted plants were ready in the front yard. I placed the bricks and cement blocks on the balcony to prop up the hanging pots and then placed them above the ledges. The hanging pots were also available. I just opened up the rings in the balcony ceiling to hang the pots from and voila it was done. The triangular sections were built while constructing the house but unused for years. Finally I decided to lay out soil in theme and plant some cuttings from the hanging pots. Finally, the creepers from the front yard garden I guided up by cords to the balcony along the railing and around the whole balcony. Now I have a balcony so green, it's really overgrowing and I just need to guide and direct its growth. So after a little work and lots of patience and waiting on the Lord, I have a enjoyable balcony garden and a nice view while working - some natural beauty to complement the artificial beauty of technology.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Universal and all embracing

As a proud Catholic, I am often surprised by people accusing Catholics of being closed to non-Catholics. I can honestly confess that not once in my life have I come across an official Catholic teaching that excludes people or discriminates against any group based on race, sex or religion, whether they are Catholic or not. In the movie "Angels and demons", Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks is hot on the trail of a dangerous gang plotting to murder important Catholic Cardinals and take control of the Vatican. He's trying to get the help of Commander Richter, the top cop of the Vatican to try and stop the next murder. The dialogue goes:

Robert Langdon: If you care at all about your church, you'll listen to me.
Commander Richter: My church? My church comforts the sick and dying. My church feeds the poor. What does your church do, Mr. Langdon? That's right. You don't have one.

The movie is a work of fiction12, but the above statement by Richter is one of the few truths in the movie. Commander Richter shows an important reason why Catholics should be proud of their faith. In India itself, Catholics make up about 2-4 percent of the population. However, the Catholic Church is the strongest contributor to healthcare and education, with more than 3,300 member institutions part of CHAI (Catholic Health Association of India) including 484 large hospitals, more than 2000 medium as well as small hospitals and health centres, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not difficult to make speeches and talk about inclusiveness, but to reach out and work for the poor takes real sacrifice and commitment. In an era of individualism, it is clear sign of a divine presence that so many Catholic priests, religious and even lay people are dedicating their lives in service of the poor. Agree there are faults in the Church, but that is true of any institution made up of fragile human beings.

Universal Church

So maybe in healthcare and education the Church reaches out to the poor, but does the Church discriminate when it comes to openness to other faiths? This is where a lot of misconceptions about the Church come to light. The Church is open to people of all faiths, regardless of their nationality, cast of creed. In the early Church, this was not easy to bring about. In fact, since Jesus, the twelve Apostles and early Christians were mostly Jews, there was actually a disagreement, you can even say a quarrel between Peter the leader of the early Church, and Paul - one of the most important early missionaries. Paul felt that Peter was discriminating against non-Jews and challenged him about it. Eventually the issue was resolved. But the important thing here is that for the early Christians being open to non-Jews was a natural challenge, because for years they believed themselves to be the chosen people. However, this changes dramatically in Acts 10, when Cornelius receives the Holy Spirit, which was considered a privilege only for Jews. The apostles are surprised about this but realize that God has chosen to open wide the gates of the Church to all people. Later Paul went to many countries all around the Mediterranean to preach Christ. This Christianity reached the "ends of the earth" for the first century believers (for first century people, the ends of Roman empire were the ends of the world).

Did you know that the word Catholic means universal? The word Catholic was first used by Ignatius,  Bishop of Antioch in the first century A.D. He said to the people of Smyrna in a letter:
"Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid. — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.
So contrary to what one might assume, though the Eastern Schism and the Protestant Reformation created new churches, the Catholic Church was not named as such during the schisms. Rather, it was right from the beginnings of Christianity in the 1st century A.D, that the word Catholic was associated with the Church. At that time, there was only one Church. Though now there are many denominations, there is a strong move towards unity of the Churches.

Biblical Roots of the Church

As a Catholic, my Church claims to have been founded by Jesus Christ, a claim supported by history. We know from the Bible and from several other non-Biblical sources, that the Apostles of Christ preached Christianity after the death and resurrection. Paul mentions in his letters, his conversion story from a staunch Jew, and a fierce opponent of Christians to someone who boldly preached Christ travelling far and wide on his missionary journeys. His transformation was effected through a vision of the risen Jesus on his road to Damascus to arrest the Christians there. Though for Christians, the Bible is the primary source about early Christianity, these events are corroborated by different other writings of the time.

The Bible says Jesus chose twelve apostles, but one of them he specially calls kepha (or rock in Aramaic). This is Simon Peter, about whom Jesus says

"You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven"
- Matthew 16:17-19

Jesus confirms this highly specific call to Peter after his resurrection in John chapter 21 -
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 
- John 21::15-17  
 Any Christian accepts Jesus as Lord and Jesus word as the last word. So when Jesus says the above of Peter, it is clear that Jesus had a special role for Peter, which is mentioned very clearly in the Bible. No other apostle has anything similar written about him. "Feed my lambs" was a commission to Peter to be a shepherd or pastor of the Christians. The Bible is full of the examples where God is represented by a shepherd. Psalm 23 says "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". In John 10:11, Jesus says "I am the good shepherd who lays down my life for my sheep". So it is clear that Jesus wants Peter to be a shepherd for all the sheep, that is the followers of Christ, the Christians. These passages are important because they show Jesus plan for the Church. After his death, resurrection and ascension, it was very clear to the Apostles how Jesus followers were to continue. There was to be a Church led by the Apostles. One Apostles would be the leader, the shepherd or pastor. Peter was the therefore the head of the early Church, representing Christ. He was to have the authority of Christ. A deeper study of the book of Isaiah reveals the meaning of some of the words used by Jesus in Matthew 16.

According to Isaiah 22, the prophet Isaiah is sent to a man called Shebna, the steward of the house of David to warn him that God will remove him from his office as steward (or Prime Minister) and put in his place Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. Isaiah 22:20

On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family;
- Isaiah 22:20-23

This passage reveals the deeper meaning of the words "open" and "close". It also reveals the what Jesus means when he says keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18). Jesus clearly spoke the words so that there would be no doubt whatsoever in the minds of those who heard him, that Peter was going to be the head of the Church. Jesus wanted there to be one Church, one body of believers headed by a shepherd. The Catholic Church is that body of believers, which has remained for 2000 years, despite many struggles and dangers. It survives because it is blessed by Christ as the bride which will be ready when Jesus comes again in glory. When we say "Marana tha". Come Lord Jesus. But that time is not now, and there is much work to be done. Many poor to feed and sick and dying to take care of. This is how we reflect Jesus work - by reaching out to the poor and most abandoned and proclaiming the Good News - that God is with us, that He has come to this world of ours, He knows our pain and He is with us always, even to the end of time - Matthew 28:20.


1. It is obvious that this movie is a story set in the future and hence is a work of fiction. However, there are several facts which the story depend on which are untrue. But dealing with this is beyond the scope of this article.

2. If you're Catholic, and you're wondering whether I watched "Angels and demons", I certainly did. The first Dan Brown film actually strengthened my knowledge of Church history - opening up questions, it led me to further strengthen my knowledge, sharpen my approach and prepare a better defence. The movie came up when I was checking out those playing on TV. As a senior member of the youth group, I watched this film so that I'd be better prepared in case a youth or someone has a question or two about the faith based on the film.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Less Painful Typing - the Dvorak Layout

If you're one of those people who spends 8 or more hours a day typing at a keyboard, you may want to try changing your keyboard layout to the Dvorak layout to make typing more comfortable. I switched to the Dvorak layout 6 months ago, and have since been reaping the benefits of more efficient typing. The Dvorak layout was invented by August Dvorak in 1936. Though not as popular as the QWERTY keyboard layout, it's designed so that the most common alphabets in English can be typed without moving your fingers from the "home row" of your keyboard. Here's what a dvorak keyboard looks like:

The standard QWERTY keys are also shown in red subscript for reference. If you learned touch typing, you probably know that different fingers type different keys. Fingers are positioned on the middle or home row as the "rest" postition and move to the top or bottom row depending on the key to be typed. The rest position for fingers of the left hand on a QWERTY keyboard, little finger to index finger, are placed on the A, S, D and F keys. The LH index finger also types the G key. In the Dvorak layout is designed so that the English vowels are at the home row position of the LH fingers in the order A, O, E, U and I. The RH fingers in the Dvorak layout are at the most common consonants, D, H, T, N and S.

If you haven't heard any of the above talk about touch typing before, and you've not learned touch typing, you're probably best placed to start learning and using the Dvorak keyboard. I used the QWERTY keyboard for some 10 years before exploring and switching to the Dvorak. If you're accustomed to the QWERTY layout, it may take you some time till you get accustomed to the Dvorak layout and type with your normal speed. It took me about 3 weeks to get comfortable with the layout during which time I practiced about an hour or two a day. It may take anything between a couple of weeks to a couple of months for different people, so plan your transit period so that you don't have to do much heavy typing during this period.

Learning Dvorak typing is much more fun than learning to type on a QWERTY keyboard, since even after the first few exercises, you can type many words on the home row itself. There are several great typing tutor software specialized for Dvorak users, e.g. dvorak7min and dvorakng. It is important that you use a good tutorial so that you can master the keys row by row. I thoroughly enjoyed my switch to the Dvorak layout every step of the way, even having some typing contests with a friend. Here are some statistics about the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts.

Key stroke distribution

To be realistic, my typing speed has seen much improvement, but typing feels much more effortless and as stress-free as I could have hoped for when I started out. As the above table shows, most of the characters you type on a Dvorak layout keyboard are on the home row. I'm sure there are a lot of people who can benefit from switching to the Dvorak layout. Could you be one of them?

There's much more information on Dvorak layout on the web. Here are some useful links:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Myths and the Da Vinci code

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Martha of Bethany, and exactly one week after the feast of St. Mary Magdelene (July 22nd). These two are women, believed to be sisters, are venerated by the Catholic Church as Saints. Mary Magdelene was also the center of the book and movie "The Da Vinci code" by Dan Brown. I but decided to watch the movie, not with the hope of learning anything, but more out of curiosity, since the book has sold so many copies. One of the few things I learned from the movie is that either the author has little idea or has got mixed up about the Bible, early Christianity, Church history and quite a few other facts. A friend told me not enough is done to clarify the facts, so here goes:

Myth 1 - Mary Magdelene was the wife of Jesus, but the Catholic Church defamed her reputation

The Catholic Church actually venerates Mary Magdelene as a Saint, and an important one, at that. So she is someone to emulate and pray to for intercession. The sources quoted in Dan Brown's movie - the gospel of Mary Magdelene and the gospel of Philip are the so called Gnostic gospels. These were written centuries after the life of Jesus, and centuries after the lives of Philip and Mary Magdalene (the Gospel of Philip was written about 250 AD), needless to say they could not have been written by Philip or Mary Magdalene.

Celibacy is not something invented by the Catholic Church. The Prophet Jeremiah was a celibate, and so were members of an ancient Jewish group called the Qumran community. This group actually advocated celibacy. Jesus told His apostles "blessed are those who become eunuchs for the kingdom of God", and Saint Paul writing to the early Christians said "I'd prefer you to be [celibate] as I am". Celibacy was by no means unnatural or unheard of among the early Christians, and co-existed alongside marriage.

Myth 2 - The Catholic Church invented the idea that Jesus was divine at the Council of Nicaea and changed the existing known understanding of a mortal, married Jesus

The divinity of Jesus was never in question to the early Christians as known by several references at different points in the Church's history. People living in Jesus time and leaders of the early Church spoke of Jesus divinity, some of which I quote here:

Jesus is called Lord, God, and Son of God in all four canonical Gospels (Matt 1:23; 4:3,6; 14:33; 16:16; 26:63-66; 27:40,43,54; Mark 1:1; 3:11-12; 14:61-62; 15:39; Luke 1:32,35; 8:28; 22:70; John 1:1-3,14,18,34,49; 3:16-18; 5:18,25-29; 8:58-59; 10:30-36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:28,31; etc), in Acts of the Apostles (Acts
3:13; 8:37; 9:20; 20:28; etc) and the New Testament epistles (Romans 1:3-4; 5:10; 8:3; 9:5; 10:9-10; 1 Cor 8:4-6; Gal 2:20; 4:4; Eph 4:13; Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:15-20; 2:9; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8-10; 4:14; 5:8; 10:29; 2 Peter 1:1,17; 1 John 3:8; 4:9-10,15; 5:5-13,20; etc). The divinity and deity of Jesus Christ is really unquestioned in the New Testament itself. These are the earliest Christian documents we have, despite the false claims of Brown. They are dated (with few exceptions) to the first century AD by all biblical scholars conservative or liberal.

St Ignatius of Antioch was a Christian leader who lived little after the time of Jesus (c.110AD). To quote his letter to the Ephesians:

Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church at Ephesus in Asia, which is worthy of all felicitation, blessed as it is with greatness by the fullness of God the Father, predestined from eternity for a glory that is lasting and unchanging, united and chosen through true suffering by the will of the Father IN JESUS CHRIST OUR GOD...."

"For OUR GOD, JESUS CHRIST, was conceived by Mary in accord with God's plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit.

This is from Ignatius letter to the Ephesians, the people of Ephesus (an ancient Roman city in modern day Turkey). Other places this can be seen in the same document are 7:2; 9:1; 18:2. Ignatius also calls Jesus Lord in his letter to the Smyrnaeans in chapter 1 verse 1.

St. Justin the 'martyr' (c.100 - 165 AD) wrote in his First Apology:

"Although the Jews were always of the opinion that it was the Father of all who had spoken to Moses, IT WAS IN FACT THE SON OF GOD, who is called both Angel and Apostle, who spoke to him; they are, therefore, justly accused by both the prophetic Spirit and by Christ Himself of knowing neither the Father nor the Son. They who assert that the Son is the Father are proved to know neither the Father, nor that the Father of all has a Son, who is both the first-born Word of God AND IS GOD [John 1:1].

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.40 - 202 AD) wrote in Against Heresies

....and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings, and the birth from a Virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to re-establish all things; and the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity, in order that to JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD AND GOD AND SAVIOR AND KING, in accord with the approval of the invisible Father, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess Him, and that He may make just judgment of them all....

Myth 3 - 325 - 30 = nearly 400

On a more humourous note, the Council of Nicaea supposedly happened almost 4 centuries after Christ, according to Brown, while its actual date is around 325 AD. The Council of Nicaea was not responsible for establishing belief in the divinity of Jesus. The Council was called to clarify precisely how the Son of God related to God the Father (as "one in being [or substance or essence] with the Father" as the Creed states). As for it being a "relatively close vote" -- the final tally was 300 bishops (give or take a few, the exact number is uncertain) to two. Nobody at the Council was there thinking Jesus was just a "mortal prophet" -- not even the Arian heretics who clearly believed Jesus was "divine" or "God" in some sense. The Council of Nicaea clarified the exact nature and meaning of Jesus as "Lord and God." The Council of Constantinople in 381 AD clarified further how the Holy Spirit related to the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Work and Worship

Economic Powers

The past century witnessed the rise and fall of communism in the Soviet Union. The mass appeal of communism is the idea of leveling the playing field for those at the bottom of the labour chain. The Bolsheviks inspired by Karl Marx's ideas of the class struggle rebelled and took over the government of Russia, overthrowing the czar and owning and controlloing all industry and workforce.

The West on the other hand has favoured (and still does) private ownership and free trade. Individuals and private and public organizations run businesses, and are granted autonomous management with little interference from the Government. This also has proven to have it's pitfalls. Lots of public money has been lost in the present exchanges. Unreal prices raised by artificial demand caused a sharp rise in land prices in the United States leading to a nationwide sub-prime crisis.

Economic forces and trends have proved to be key factors in our present world. The promise of Barack Obama to bring America out of the economic crisis, played a crucial factor in drawing popular support to vote the Harvard Ph.d and author of a book to victory in American Presidential election. Today, Greece's financial crunch is a major issue governing foreign policy of members of the European union.

In India, the control of businesses is mixed between state and public. Communist ruled states are few but significant. Left parties have had the states of West Bengal and Kerala as traditional strongholds. These states are famous for their trade and labour unions, which wield much power and dictate terms. It is debatable whether the balance of power is skewed too much in favour of trade unions.

Workers Day: just another holiday?

This past Saturday was May 1st: Workers Day. With free trade has risen the concentration of power in the hands of corporate management. There have been inspirational individuals with vision who have led progress. Many people have as their role model, Mr N.R Narayana Murthy, founder and CEO of Infosys. Large companies especially attract much skilled labour. Free market economy makes large scale business possible, but the flip side is well known. Ramalinga Raju of Satyam fell from power when company management questioned his buying of large scale stake in Maytas (btw, did you observe that Maytas is Satyam spelled backwards).

The immense power and authority of top management in corporations may have different implications for the workers at the grassroots level. Organizations vary in their policies for the workers. Excessive power with top management may give rise to the possiblity of abuse of workers, the extreme examples of which happen in sweat shops.

The other extreme is powerful labour unions. The reality of employees duties and responsibilities can be offset by excessively powerful labour unions, with the result that the organiazation suffers, and in cases where vital public services are controlled by such unions, the general public suffers from strikes, etc. Therefore, we have the different aspects of duty, responsibility and just payment, which need to be balanced and fair from both employers and employees side.

So where is the individual worker in all of this? Is he given his due? Is he given ample opportunity to build his society, his country and realize his own capacity as a contributor to the good of the nation and community? Is there a proper balance between his rights and duties? Or is his deserved payment stolen by others? Is his used as a pawn in the power games of trade unions or management? These are questions which are wide and cut across the spectrum of different organizations and industries. They are both general to society as a whole and specific to individuals and organizations.

For Catholics, Workers day is also celebrated as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, who was the head of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and a carpenter by profession. The Catholic Church presents St Joseph as the patron of all workers and by honouring St Joseph, the Church recognizes the honour of his profession or carpentry, with which he produced useful works for his community and fed his family. By having a special feast in honour of St Joseph the Worker, the Church also recognizes workers of all professions and the dignity of all labour. It is reality and tragedy that often work, which was meant to provide us what we need has become a status symbol with distinctions in qualities of work and division of people based on the kind of work they do.

Rights, Responsibilities, Work and Worship

For me, employment provides an opportunity to serve organizations and therefore individuals by providing them useful works. The work of our hands can alleviate excessive hardship and solve problems of organizations and individuals. It is no doubt an aspiration of job seekers and workers to find a job where their work is recognized and valuable. It is therefore imperative of us to find skills that we have and areas where we are good and useful. It is of utmost value and satisfaction to find a genuine area of resourcefulness and provide value to customers and/or people.

It is a misconception that work is a punishment sent by God. As a Christian, one cannot deny evils in our professional life that can be due to different reasons. There are hardships and individual struggles, which can make or mar our professional lives. However, work is certainly not a meaningless punishment. Work is something that can be greatly valuable not only directly, but also indirectly. The times of struggle and hardship may not bring you recognition or stars, but that is only temporal and from a human perspective. The believer-God relationship is that of a Father-child, and goes beyond the employer-employee relationship, though these two relationships do not conflict.

Further, as a Catholic and a daily Mass goer, my work is an offering to God. In the earlier days, farmers brought the produce of their fields, fishermen brought fish, bakers brought bread, etc. If you wonder why the priest washes his hands with water, it was quite necessary in the earlier days (imagine the potatoes taken out of the ground). Nowadays, it is a symbolic washing.

As a believer, work for me is either creative or redemptive. Being a software engineer, I write applications through which I share in the creative work of God. Software generally has bugs. By fixing the bugs, I participate in redemptive work of God, where He transforms ordinary things into something better and more beautiful. This applies to any kind of work. When a cook prepares a vegetable, she redeems the ordinary vegetable and makes something special out of it. When a sweeper sweeps the floor, she redeems the dirty place into something better and more beautiful.

Holy Mass – on earth as it is in heaven

For those with faith, the Mass is a Divine liturgy in the presence of angels and saints. If we are attentive to the prayers of the Mass, we will at least notice (though unfortunately many dream or are distracted) that an exchange is happening between God and man. As with the ancient Mayans, or the Vedic priests, a Catholic priest basic duty is to offer sacrifice to God.

The Catholic faith teaches that there is a real sacrifice happening during the Mass. Catholics believe that the Sacrifice that is being made is not bread or wine, but Jesus Christ himself. We believe that the Mass is not symbolic, but genuinely the original Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the eternal Father on Calvary. I'm not surprised that many find it too much to believe, even many Jews left Jesus when he taught them about this.

The part called offertory, is the time when the wine and water are mixed. This symbolizes Christ's divinity mixing with our humanity and thus transforming it. Imagine if our own works were taken to the altar and offered literally at the Mass. This happens in reality though not physically and I recall my own works at this time of the Mass. Then, at the consecration, Christ becomes present in the bread and wine as it gets transformed into His Body and Blood.

The actual sacrifice of the Mass happens during what is called the doxology:

Through Him, with Him, in Him,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory and honour is Your, Almighty Father,
Forever and ever. Amen.

This is the point at which everything is offered to the Father, including the offerings and work of all those present. Those who have offered physically and those who have brought to mind their works and offered to God in their hearts, the work of their hands.

Therefore to summarize, work is a major aspect in todays world. There are many questions about the dignity workers and their responsibility. But all kinds of work and all workers have a great dignity, irrespective of what they do. Most importantly, my Catholic faith is not separate from my work. Rather, I offer my work to God along with my struggles and hardships believing that Jesus joins his own sacrifice to it and offers it to the Father on the Cross, thus transforming my life and my work. This gives me strength to go into the world and continue with my labours each day.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Power of the Fairytale ending

On adjacent channels on TV, two Hindi movies on honest cop vs corrupt world were showing – Dayanayak (based on a real life story) and Yashwant (Nana Patekar starrer). The honest cop strikes you with his fierce fight for the cause of justice, sacrificing his own safety and that of his family and putting this interest above all others. The funny thing about such movies is that it takes an idea – that of altruism at the cost great sacrifices and brings it to the masses in the form of a movie.

The irony is that while many psychology and sociology experts, philosophers, celebrities come out with theories based on human self gratification, pursuit of happiness in this world, there are movies for the common public that subscribe to this altruistic morality that stretches beyond doing good for your own family and known circle. This indicates a loss of touch with reality by the experts. You'd find many a common Joe or a plain Jane in the crowd that subscribes to the altruistic morality. During youth, many believe we can do all things, fight injustice and work for the right. With age seems a resignation to the forces of evil and a withering away of the optimism of youth. But even many of those who do not actively fight evil believe in it and appreciate heroism when they see it.

Another point is the presence of good and evil. The honest cop is faced with human innocence and human selfishness and malice at the same time. He has to confront human malice to protect innocent humans. So he cannot possibly lose faith in the goodness of humanity nor lost track of the existence of evil. In both movies, the honest cops confrontations with those on the wrong side of the law bring wrath and start a sequence of events leading to their suspension from duty. So the bad guys win their round, but the honest cop rises again – proves himself innocent and gets reinstated – fairytale ending – final triumph of truth.

Many “experts” miss out the point in the Lord of the Rings and are confounded by its success on being voted the favourite book of the millennium. The “experts” miss out the appeal of the fairytale ending. The underlying thread both grounded in reality and seemingly the stuff of fairytales – the forces of truth seem weak while the forces of evil overwhelmingly powerful. The innocent honest upright fighter for the right cause (Frodo in the Lord of the Rings) main weapon is readiness to sacrifice for the cause of the whole world.

Stupendously, ultimate sacrifice is the very power that the evil mind fails to comprehend. As Galdalf says of Sauron the Dark Lord “Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.”

How did the honest cop find his way to hit back? It was the folly of his position – without his job or status, he seems to have nothing to threaten the opponents with. However, strength does not fail him and he finds the evidence to prove his innocence. The very nature of this battle is such that it repeats in many lives and in the very depths of our being, we know it is true. We have a conflict in us, especially the more ordinary among us, of a superlative sense of justice missed out by many “experts”. We seem minnows and weaklings in the face of those who take security in their power and status, but if we have sufficient faith and hope, we can turn our defeats into victories, especially for the right causes.

But then, it's not always black and white with human beings. We are drawn to truth and justice, yet we are also pulled to power and status. The human mind is the battleground of the greatest conflict between good and evil. This is where the acceptance of sin and human weakness comes in. This is where the need for a Saviour comes in. This is where the power of the Cross is realized and the meaning of our own lives is realized.

The Cross is where suffering gets its meaning. It is where contradiction and folly become weapons of power. It is where tables are turned and fairytale endings are made possible. And the inner insight of the reality of the fairytale ending overcomes doubt and despair. The rays of the new dawn fill the heart with courage that the innocent Lamb, apparently powerless over the overwhelming dark forces, can trumph, will triumph and has triumphed.

This is the meaning of Easter which is the season celebrated by the Church at this time. It is the power of the final victory. It is the strength to remain steadfast to the end, to fight the good fight, to walk the narrow road. To take on the odds and bet your life that the victory of truth will come no matter how things turn out today. As the song “Rainy Day” from Big Dismal goes:

It keeps us hanging on,
Even when all hope is gone,
I believe that Your love rains down on me.
It carries us away,
It takes us to a place,
Far above this world.
And I can see you in the clouds,
On a rainy day...