the Examiner Articles
Synodality in Institutions of Formation
Bishop Thomas Dabre
No man is an island. So also, our faith-life is not a narrowly personal and individualistic journey. All of Scripture witnesses to salvation as a community project. God saves us with, and within, a community of faith. That is why the academic and spiritual formation of future priests and religious entails a personal, collective and communitarian endeavour. Therefore, the students cannot do their studies solely by following their classes and studying in their rooms or libraries. The professors too cannot be satisfied with classroom lectures, in person or online. Thus the principle of synodality calls for a shifting of gears and a new paradigm in priestly education.
To be sure, our academic institutions are duty-bound to follow the syllabus approved by the relevant Church authorities. However, that does not mean just to relay the portion from books to students. Truth has to be constantly discovered and critically received. Truth is not a fixed and frozen entity. Attainment of truth is a creative engagement.
Cardinal Henry Newman, Bernard Lonergan and others have spoken of the development of dogma. Christian philosophy and theology have progressed during the course of centuries, thanks to the creative and critical engagement of Christian thinkers and theologians.
Divine revelation has to be progressively interpreted, understood, assimilated and articulated. The Holy Spirit is a creative divine principle. His seven gifts are an abundant source of creative engagement in the entire enterprise of education. We are all endowed with these seven gifts in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore we must trust one another, and the laity especially. This, of course, is a challenging and demanding process.
In our present times, under the bold and empowering leadership of Pope Francis, we discover a new dimension of synodality; not that it was not there in the Church of Christ, but it got obliterated in the vicissitudes of history. Now the Pope has brought the approach of synodality centre-stage, calling for the development of a synodal Church at all levels.
Word of God Sunday
Fr Pablo Gadenz
Why is it important for us to read the Bible?
Sunday, January 23 will be celebrated in the Catholic Church throughout the world as Sunday of the Word of God. This designation came about when, on Sept. 30, 2019, Pope Francis issued the apostolic letter Aperuit Illis, instituting the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time each year as the Sunday of the Word of God – a Sunday "devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God." At Mass, we will hear the existing readings from the three-year Lectionary, as they highlight God's Word in different ways.
The Pope's purpose in instituting this "yearly event"—which he explains should be viewed as "a year-long event"—is to encourage all of us "to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord."
The celebration invites each of us to consider what role the Bible plays in our individual lives, and whether we dedicate enough time to the Bible. The underlying assumption, of course, is that reading the Bible is an important thing to do. Therefore, as we prepare to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God, a good starting point might be to review some possible answers to the question - "Why is it important for us as Catholics to read the Bible?"
First, it is important to read the Bible in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis writes, "The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians." Without some familiarity with Scripture, we cannot really get to know Jesus, as the Pope reminds us by quoting St Jerome's famous phrase: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."
Reclaiming The Republic
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ
On November 25, 1949, in a passionate speech to the Constituent Assembly, the visionary Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of our Constitution, gave three unambiguous warnings – the need to give up the grammar of anarchy, to avoid hero-worship, and to work towards a social, not just a political, democracy! Perhaps Ambedkar had some inkling at that time of what 'India 2022' would be like, and of how these three aspects could not only destroy all that was sacred in the Constitution, but could also mean the dismantling of the democratic framework which a new surgent India was just born into, and had committed herself to preserving.
In that path-breaking speech, Ambedkar said, "If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to Constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives…. where Constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for (...) unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions" …. in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it, social democracy."
Tackling the Third Wave
Dr Lancelot Mark Pinto
Dr Richard Pereira, Project Coordinator for the Health Outreach Project of the Archdiocese of Bombay, in conversation with Dr Lancelot Pinto to understand the finer nuances of this current third wave of the COVID-19 virus.
Dr Richard: Dr Lance, thank you for your time and expertise. First of all, would it be a mistake to brand Omicron as mild?
Dr Lance: To brand Omicron as a mild variant would be trivialising the magnitude of the present surge. The variant is extremely transmissible, appears to have a short incubation period, and consequently causes a huge number of individuals to be infected in a very short duration. There is reason to believe that among those who are unvaccinated, or those who have immune-compromising conditions, the variant could cause disease as severe as what was witnessed in earlier surges. In the context of a densely populated country like India, even if a small fraction of individuals need hospitalisation simultaneously, we could face an overwhelming of the healthcare system.
Dr Richard: When two variants - Omicron and Delta - are making their presence felt, how does one figure out one from the other?
It is likely that most infections in the present surge are caused by the Omicron variant. S gene dropout on the RT-PCR is highly likely to be Omicron. The presence of the S gene, however, does not mean that this is not Omicron. This is important, because the antibody cocktails presently available in India do not work against the Omicron variant.
Dr Richard: How accurate is a rapid antigen test? Can one know from a test if this is Omicron?
Dr Lance: Rapid tests have a high specificity, making false positive results unlikely. A positive is usually a true positive. If you have symptoms and the rapid antigen result is negative, you should confirm with an RT-PCR. A negative rapid antigen test result DOES NOT mean you don't have COVID. Rapid antigen tests can miss up to half of all COVID infections. A rapid antigen test cannot distinguish one variant from another.
FCRA: Ploy to target Minorities and Critics?
The past few years have seen increased attacks on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) globally, with governments cracking down and creating stricter laws to restrict the activities of such organizations, and subjecting their staff to intense scrutiny and surveillance. Almost half the world's states have implemented controls that affect tens of thousands of organisations across the globe. India is no exception.
While the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) was originally enacted in the country in 1976 to regulate the inflow of money from overseas into the country, the Centre amended the Act in 2020, and incorporated more stringent measures for receiving foreign funds. The amended law prohibits political parties, the news media, and organisations "of a political nature" from receiving foreign contributions. The amendment also proposed to reduce the use of foreign funds by NGOs to meet administrative costs from the existing 50 percent to 20 percent.
However, recent events as reported in the media, indicate a disturbing trend, wherein the new rules for FCRA license appear to have been used selectively by the Central Government to target minorities and critics of the government. For example, as recently as December 2021, the new amended rules for FCRA License for the Missionaries of Charity, the Kolkata-based group founded by Nobel laureate Mother Teresa for the poor and destitute received vague remarks of 'adverse inputs',on the basis of which the Missionaries of Charity were given to understand that a failure to comply with the new set of rules would result in their FCRA renewal being held up. The Missionaries of Charity, without seeking any exemption to the rule, decided to freeze their FCRA accounts to be free from any wrong doing. This caused a great inconvenience to the humanitarian services they were conducting and their FCRA was restored only after two weeks after acute pressure from civil society and the media. It is indeed amazing how an organisation like the Missionaries of Charity with a pretty good and distinguished background in charitable service has come to be associated with so-called 'adverse inputs'!
Education and Vision
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." - Proverbs 29:13 (King James Version)
Vision is at the heart of education. The word "vision" is connected to words like wisdom, idea, knowledge, prophecy and story. In short, "vision" is another way of describing a philosophy or worldview. It can be understood as the word that discloses reality. Given that education has the meaning of a "leading out" (ex + ducere) to reality, it involves the induction of students into an idea, knowledge, and a story. Thus, the question is not whether or not there is a vision in education, but which vision. Is it a vision of the Good in which humans find their fulfilment? Getting clear about the de facto governing educational vision within the schools, and asking whether or not that is suited to human excellence are the first steps to renewal of the schools.
Education, in many respects, is formation into a vision of human excellence (Gr. arete). This entails a lot. The question about the nature and excellence of the human being leads to questions about the nature of the cosmos (Gr. Kosmos; beautiful order of the world), being (what holds for all time and all people), and, ultimately, "that than which nothing greater can be thought," what's "beyond being," i.e. God. Thus, on this analysis, we can see that education is formation into a vision of God, the contemplation of which is crucial to human excellence. But how many educational institutions are guided by such a vision today? Not many.
Education, as it is embodied in many schools in America and Europe, serves the vision articulated by early 17th century statesman, amateur scientist, and above all, propagandiser of the "new science," Sir Francis Bacon. He laid out his vision and method primarily in his Novum Organum (subtitled "the new interpretation regarding nature"). The title references Aristotles' Organon, and so implies its replacement. Bacon's new vision put forth the Novum Organum as fabelized in his tale The New Atlantis.
Armchair Musings on 2022
Why the armchair? It helps to contemplate peacefully. It is good to stay focused on the probables for the year ahead. So here goes.
One obvious certainty is the prolonged presence of the COVID phenomenon in our midst. It is already altering relationships on the individual, family, societal and global levels. Patterns of behaviour will continue being affected for good or bad. Humankind may need to reflect honestly and morally on what has been the real cause for the pandemic. Is it to be found in a laboratory or is it the result of a mass deviation from the Ten Commandments? Prayerfully, we will be seeking a peak-out or a complete end to the scourge.
A heavy reliance on digital gadgets will continue to dominate the lifestyle of humans. It may be the 'working from home' factor; it may be the entertainment of TV channels or it may even be the expanding use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will bring about a lasting change in the way we think and act. A great and looming danger brought about by the dependence on digital appliances is the manipulation of thoughts and possible actions by evil-doers among politicians, mafia and operators of digital systems who seek to control populations. Political, religious and grass-root leaders must alert their clientele to this danger and develop systems to offset this danger.
Talking about AI, there is no doubt that it is, and will be, impacting our lives more and more. Scientists are succeeding in making machines think, reason and learn. We already have AI applications that help doctors to predict cancers and eye diseases. AI is being used in a host of enterprises like banking, aerospace and the operations at airports. However, there are many ethical challenges to the use of AI, and everybody in the Church should be aware of them. Some of these challenges are the lack of transparency of AI tools; AI decisions are not always intelligible to humans and are susceptible to inaccuracies, discriminatory outcomes, embedded or inserted bias. Surveillance practices, snooping for data gathering may be dubious. There can be concerns for fairness, Human Rights and other fundamental values.
The Ubuntu Way of Life
‘Ubuntu' is an African word meaning 'humanity to others'. It emphasises a bond among all humanity. It encompasses the social, political and cultural life of the individual. It is Jesus' gospel of love - "Love one another as I have loved you.''
It is said that Nelson Mandela was influenced by the ubuntu philosophy. He believed that we are all united by the common thread of humanity. He won over people with gestures such as the introduction of his jailers as guests at his inauguration ceremony. He was indeed a great statesman and humanist.
There are cases galore where ubuntu is practised, though those practising it were unaware of this word. The Acts of the Apostles describes how the early Christians stayed in a commune and shared everything in common. The Christians in Rome sent a large sum of money to their brethren in Corinth.
In India, the nuclear family is gradually replacing the large joint families. As with every social organisation, the joint family had its drawbacks, but at the same time, it provided a support system for the very young, the elderly and the sick. A child in a nuclear family, for instance, is left in the hands of a paid maid to take care of him, while the parents go off to work, whereas in a joint family, the child would have had doting grandparents to teach him and give him abundant love.
I once read this story where a bunch of kids were told that they should run a race, and the one who came first would win all the sweets. To the surprise of the organisers, the kids joined hands, and happily ran to the finish point in order to equally share the sweets.
Atmavishwas in Verna, Goa is a workshop for mentally challenged young adults. There are strong bonds within the group. There was one event when the entire group was to sing on stage. Who doesn't want to be in the limelight? To the chagrin of the teachers of Atmavishwas, the youngsters started backing out, because one girl got cold feet and absented herself from the venue. A delegation with some of her friends was sent to her house to persuade her to join the group on stage. It was only after she arrived that the group happily trooped onto the stage.