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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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What's in a word?
  By Father Michael Kelly  
 
BEING an Australian living in Asia as I do has some distinct advantages. It makes it possible to see familiar things in a new light provided by unfamiliar contexts. One such is words and their meanings.

A friend of mine who has been a missionary in Japan on and off for 40 years told me a fascinating story recently about how the Japanese bishops changed their minds about something quite critical to Catholic belief.

Japanese is a complex language whose complexity is intensified by the nuances words get from the social context they're uttered in, especially by where someone sits on the social scale.

Other languages in Asia are similar and Thai and Javanese spring to mind as ones with such patterns. You talk up or down depending on your social standing and the standing of the one you are interacting with. Respect, deference, honor and regard all vary depending on age, family, education, accent, even inherited characteristics such as the pecking order in caste or royal connection.

When the Catholic liturgy was translated from Latin into all the languages of humanity, including English, the words used in English by a Eucharistic Minister offering Communion are "The Body of Christ," which is also the title of the feast we celebrate on June 6.

In Japanese, an intensely reverential word that put "body" into remote inaccessibility was used. Then, my missionary friend told me, the Japanese bishops did an unusual thing. They admitted they had made a mistake and got the translation theologically wrong.

Putting Jesus at a remote distance from the nourishment the Eucharist provides and segmenting the Body of Christ away and apart from Christ's embodiment in the Church sends all the wrong messages.

So they changed the translation away from the hieratic and deliberately remote words to ones closer to the Christ who lives among us, nourishes our journey in faith and is embodied in the living community of faith -- the Church.

But nothing human lasts and the Vatican's current "reform of the reform" of the liturgy is pushing the translation back to the hieratic phrase the Japanese bishops changed decades ago.

The Feast of Corpus Christi provides an opportunity to focus on what Vatican 2 described as the "source and summit of the Church's life." Catholics can become fanatical about one form of the Body of Christ in the bread of the Eucharist as the REAL presence of Christ.

However, it is the unambiguous teaching of the Church that this is only one form of the real presence of Christ. The other real presences of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist are found in the gathering of the community, in the proclamation and reception of the Word of God and in the hearts and prayers of believers gathered in His Name.

Regrettably, all too frequently, the only Presence focused on is Christ's presence in the elements of bread and wine.

Inadequately described as the change of the "substance" (not the "accidents") of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist carries the intellectual baggage of a physics no one accepts.

Aristotelian physics makes such nice, however implausible and now unintelligible, distinctions. They are meaningless in the post-Newtonian world of quantum physics, which is the scientific context we live in today.

The Church's teaching has always focused on the mystery of the Eucharist, recognizing that its explanation will limp. Words can never exhaust or fully account for a mystery. Just think about why you love someone: you can never do justice to the experience in the words you might use to "explain" it.

What does this mean in the present context of liturgical reform? It comes down to a simple question. Will the "reform of the reform" which has been legislated and promulgated from the Vatican for implementation next year be as energetic in securing the full range of Vatican II's reforms as it aims to be about language?

Or will it simply head the liturgy where the Japanese have had to follow -- into a world of words that makes the mystery of Christ in the Eucharist not a celebration of the one in whom we "live and move and have our being" but rather consigns our public prayer to reaches that are remote and inaccessible to all but Latin-educated clerics?

Father Michael Kelly SJ has been executive director of UCA News since January 1, 2009. He has worked in radio and TV production since 1982 and as a journalist in Australia and Asia for various publications, religious and secular
 
   
   
We as shepherds
  By Aniecia John  
  A COUPLE of years ago my elder sister and I were judges at one of the Sunday School competitions where children narrated Biblical stories. I was fascinated by the story of the missing sheep as told by a young competitor.

In the child's version of the story, every sheep had a name. One evening when, as usual, the shepherd counted the sheep, he found one sheep -- Saumya -- missing. Immediately, he began his search for the missing sheep. He went around calling aloud "Saumya, Saumya" but without any response.

Evening turned into night and the shepherd was still looking for Saumya. He did not even know that in the process he had reached a thick forest. He was so engrossed in his search that nothing else mattered to him.

Suddenly the shepherd heard the faint voice of Saumya. The little sheep had got trapped in a thorny bush. In one sweep, he reached the spot, lifted up Saumya and held it close to his chest. Because he had broken through the thorns, he bled profusely. Did not Jesus bleed for all of us?

The story of the good shepherd could not have been narrated better. I wondered why the child gave every sheep a name. I soon figured out, God knows every person's name and He does not call anyone like "the one who wears a blue saree or the one who has a handlebar moustache" as we often do. Did he not call Samuel by the name "Samuel"?

The relationship is between God and we as individuals, as is brought home in Psalms 23:1 "The Lord is my shepherd". It is a personal relationship. Note the words "my shepherd". It is not "our shepherd".

Like many others I, too, considered the God of the Old Testament as a revengeful, cruel and inconsiderate God. But when I studied Ezekiel 34, my idea of the Old Testament God underwent a metamorphosis.

In this chapter, God is presented as a shepherd. In verses 3 and 4, the duties and responsibilities of the shepherd are clearly defined: "You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fatlings, but you do not tend the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty."

In the everyday context, who are the shepherds? We are the shepherds. We have a responsibility to take care of the needs of the sheep and we cannot shy away from it. Verse 10 makes it explicitly clear: "This is what the Lord GOD says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand my flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue my flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them."

A parent cannot shirk responsibility if his children go astray. We as individuals and as members of the church have the responsibilities of the shepherd, to lead the sheep in the right path, search and find it if it is missing. In other words, we are accountable to God.

This is elaborated further in I Peter 5. For starters, Peter was not a very learned person. He was just a fisherman. He acquired his greatness when he became a disciple of Jesus. Similarly, Moses could not even speak properly, for he stammered but he turned out to be one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. He shepherded a whole people from slavery to freedom. It is God that gives us everything. All the good things that we are blessed with are gifts of God.

If King David can attribute everything he had to God as in Psalm 23, why can't we? How strong is our relationship with God? Do we know God well? Just as the shepherd in the child's story recognized the voice of Saumya, the sheep too recognized the shepherd's voice.

When we achieve many things, do we realize that it is a gift of God? I know there are people who seek the comforts of prayer when all other attempts fail. They don't pray when they take medicines but when medicines fail, they pray. I often wonder why they can't pray before taking their medicines.

If God is our gate and if we pass through it, we will not be found wanting. The little church that is coming up in Dwarka would not have been possible if the parishioners had not prayed. It was the strength of the prayer that empowered a small community to raise enough resources for the church. It is God's grace that matters.

I had a college friend who questioned the relevance of the church and even God. If God was all-merciful, kind and considerate, why did He allow injustices to happen, girls to be raped and violence to prevail? Doesn't our pastoral ministry enjoin upon us the responsibility of answering such questions?

I studied in Catholic institutions and I have on umpteen occasions seen Hindus and Sikhs visiting the church at odd times just to sit down and pray. I asked one of them why he did that. "Sitting here gives me peace of mind". I wish one of the Mar Thoma churches in Delhi remained open 24 hours so that anybody could walk in, sit down and pray.

In this mercantile world, we cannot understand anything except in mercantile terms. If we are good shepherds, our endeavours will not go unrewarded, for it is promised: "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

As shepherds, we have a duty to tell others about the abiding love of Jesus. We can do it in our workplace. We can tell our maids, colleagues and neighbours that there is a God who loves you, who looks after you. And that is what God expects us to do as shepherds.
--
Transcribed and excerpted from a sermon the author delivered at St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, on May 16, 2010
 
   
   
Unbelievers in pulpits
  By Terry Mattingly  
  ON Sunday mornings, you will find him leading hymns in one of the independent Church of Christ congregations somewhere in South Carolina.

Call him "Adam." He is a church administrator, a "worship minister" and a self-proclaimed "atheist agnostic." That last detail is a secret. After all, his wife and teen-aged children are devout believers and he needs to stay employed.

"Here's how I'm handling my job... I see it as playacting. I kind of see myself as taking on a role of a believer in a worship service, and performing," he said, during an interview for the "Preachers who are not Believers (.pdf)" report from the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.

"I know how to pray publicly. I can lead singing. I love singing. I don't believe what I'm saying anymore in some of these songs. But I see it as taking on the role and performing. Maybe that's what it takes for me to get myself through this, but that's what I'm doing."

The researchers behind this report do not claim they can document whether this phenomenon is rare or common. What they have right now is anecdotal material drawn from confidential interviews with five male Protestant ministers -- three in liberal denominations and two from flocks that, as a rule, are conservative. An ordained Episcopal Church woman was interviewed, but withdrew just before publication.

The authors of the report are philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, an outspoken leader in the movement many call the "New Atheism," and Linda LaScola, a clinical social worker with years of qualitative research experience. She is also an atheist, but, until recently, was a regular churchgoer.

"We started with a pilot study because this is very new ground," said LaScola, who conducted the interviews. "We are planning to do a larger study in the future."

The key is circulating this early material and then finding more ministers who are willing to be interviewed. The initial participants were found through contacts with the Center For Progressive Christianity and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. As this report candidly states: "Our sample is small and self-selected, and it is not surprising that all of our pastors think that they are the tip of an iceberg, but they are also utterly unable to confirm this belief."

What unites these ministers is their isolation from the believers in their pews, their awareness that they cannot honestly discuss their doubts and evolving beliefs. They also struggle with labels such as "atheist" or "agnostic," often insisting that they remain believers of some kind -- although they reject Christian doctrines or even theism.

This tension, the authors stressed, is "no accident" in these postmodern times.

"The ambiguity about who is a believer and who a nonbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can't know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all," noted Dennett and LaScola. "This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don't know what they are being asked."

More than anything else, the report offers a striking mix of voices and motives.

"Darryl" the Presbyterian still calls himself a "Jesus Follower," but adds: "I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone."

There's "Wes" the United Methodist: "I think the word God can be used very expressively in some of my more meditative modes. I've thought of God as a kind of poetry that's written by human beings."

A retired United Church of Christ pastor, "Rick," has learned to add this subtle disclaimer when reciting creeds: "Let us remember our forefathers and mothers in the faith who said, 'dot, dot, dot, dot'."

"Jack" the Southern Baptist has concluded that the "grand scheme of Christianity, for me, is a bunch of bunk." Thus, he is quietly planning a new career.

"If somebody said, 'Here's $200,000,' I'd be turning my notice in this week, saying, 'A month from now is my last Sunday.' Because then I can pay off everything." (Courtesy: www.feedblitz.com)
 
   
   
Sermons by Billy and Obama
  By Terry Mattingly  
  BOTH men faced rows of loved ones still wrapped in grief after shocking tragedies.

Both men quoted the Psalms. Both concluded with visions of eternal life and heavenly reunions. Both referred to familiar songs that offered comfort.

Facing those gathered in Beckley, W.Va., to mourn the loss of 29 miners, President Barack Obama asked them to remember a rhythm and blues classic -- "Lean on Me" -- that had its roots in coal country life.

Songwriter Bill Withers wrote: "Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. ...Lean on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on."

The Rev. Billy Graham was more daring at the 1995 prayer service for the 168 victims of the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The world's most famous evangelist even quoted an explicitly Christian hymn.

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I will not desert to its foes," claims "How Firm a Foundation," in its final verse. "That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"

There is no way to know if Obama and Graham talked about heaven, hell and eulogies when they held their first face-to-face meeting, just a few hours before the president traveled to West Virginia.

Reporters were not allowed to witness the 30-minute session, the kind of confidential meeting that Graham has held with every president since Harry Truman. Obama was the first to meet with the evangelical statesman at his log home on a mountainside above Montreat, N.C.

Graham's career has been defined as much by these moments of civil religion as by the decades of crusades in which he preached to millions. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters that Graham is a "treasure to our country" and that, while the 91-year-old preacher has "some of the creaks that come with advancing age," he remains as "sharp as he ever was."

Some details of the meeting were relayed to the Associated Press by the Rev. Franklin Graham, the outspoken heir to his father's ministry. Billy Graham gave Obama two Bibles, one for him and one for First Lady Michelle Obama. The evangelist prayed for America and for wisdom for the president. Obama offered a prayer thanking God for Graham's life and ministry.

Franklin Graham's presence guaranteed the discussion of at least one sensitive subject, since the Army recently rescinded his invitation to speak at a Pentagon prayer service. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the younger Graham called Islam an "evil and wicked religion" and he still insists that Muslims need to know that Jesus died for their sins.

When they discussed the Pentagon's approach to religion, Franklin Graham said that Obama promised "he would look into it."

That's the kind of theological terrain that presidents strive to avoid. Thus, Obama remained safely vague when using God language in West Virginia. If there is comfort in the wake of the mine tragedy, he said, "it can, perhaps, be found by seeking the face of God, who quiets our troubled minds, a God who mends our broken hearts, a God who eases our mourning souls."

Obama concluded with an appeal for safer mines, blending spiritual concerns into the politics of rock and coal.

"We cannot bring back the 29 men we lost. They are with the Lord now," he said. "Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy; to do what must do, individually and collectively, to assure safe conditions underground. ... We have to lean on one another, and look out for one another, and love one another, and pray for one another."

In Oklahoma City, Graham had closed with an openly evangelistic appeal, the kind of spiritual warning he has urgently voiced for decades.

"This event," he said, "reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life. It reminds us that we never know when we are going to be taken. I doubt if even one of those who went to that building to work or to go to the children's place ever dreamed that that was their last day on earth. That is why we each need to face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God."
(Courtesy: www.religion.org)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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