The Sacrifice and Stillness of Passion Week

The events of Good Friday and its commemoration each year in the Christian calendar is a pivotal moment in our spiritual progression towards the perfection that God desires from each one of us, as also for our journey towards eternal life with Him. The joy-filled and life-giving mysteries of Easter and the Resurrection are impossible to tap into, unless one first journeys with Jesus through the sufferings of Golgotha and then the silence of the tomb.

The 'humility' of Maundy Thursday, the 'sacrifice' of Good Friday and the 'stillness' of Holy Saturday, amply demonstrated in Christ Himself, are essential capes that we need to vest ourselves with, if we want to rise with Christ to new life on Easter Sunday. I like to refer to this as 'letting go' and 'letting be' which would then lead to 'letting grow' on Easter Sunday.

We see the humility of the Divine first made manifest in the Incarnation, when God became one with us, steadily progressing and maturing as Jesus lived His earthly life, till it reaches its high point in Holy Week. Jesus gives His disciples a living witness of humility and servant leadership by bending down and washing the feet of His disciples. This humility reaches its zenith when He offers Himself as a fragrant offering on the Cross, becoming completely obedient to His Father's will (Phil 2:7-8).

Jesus also 'lets go' of many other things; He lets go of His human dignity, when He is inhumanely tortured and crucified, mocked, stripped of His garments and abused; He lets go of the temptation to use His divine powers in the face of incessant taunts to save Himself; He lets go of His anger and resentment when He forgives His transgressors while nailed to the Cross… He lets go of Himself, so that He can redeem humanity.

This then speaks to us of the necessity of humility and sacrifice in the affairs of our daily life, if we truly want to give witness of the Risen Christ to all those whom we meet. What am I holding on to that is preventing me from embracing God more fully? Anger, pride, jealousy, unforgiveness, resentment…even seemingly good things such as career, ambition or self-improvement can often hinder our spiritual progress, if pursued to an obsessive degree.

There are many out there in God's Church who bear the weight of yesterday, and refuse to let it go. Every hurt, sin, and bad memory are like rocks on the back that weigh one down. When we refuse to let go and "forget what lies behind", we're slowed to "strain forward to what lies ahead", we close our hearts to the fact that Christ carried all our hurts on Himself on the Cross so that we could be freed to live a life of abundance.

On Holy Saturday, we commemorate Jesus' burial in the tomb. Jesus did not spend too much time being dead, lamenting and thinking about His past. He moved on. When the time comes for something to die in our lives, we must allow it to die once, and bury it properly. No man lingers around a graveyard playing with the bones of the dead that they may rise again. Yet we do this constantly with dead and dying things in our lives.

'Letting Be' means surrendering to the grace of God and living in the present. As human beings, we are obsessed about the future, and hence are blind to the graces of the present. "Trees do not force their sap," the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, "nor does the flower push its bloom." When we slow down and give ourselves more time, we may hear the voice of our intuition and open ourselves to new possibilities. 'Letting be' also means remaining in stillness with God, connecting with Him through prayer, so that we are able to more effectively sharpen our discernment of how God works in the world.

That is what Holy Saturday has taught me about being Christian. Between the great dramas of life, there is almost always a time of empty waiting - with nothing to do and no church service to help. If I am willing to rest with Christ in the cave where He was buried, there then will the Maker of All Life find me in the darkness of my inner sanctuary.

And if I am able to 'Let go' and 'Let be', only then will I free myself to 'Let grow' in the radiance and light of Christ on Easter Sunday.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

Supporting Expectant Mothers in Distress

For most women, pregnancy is a joyful and an exciting phase of life. Nine months of waiting followed by the arrival of a bundle of joy is indeed a matter of happiness for the family as well as the friends' circle. But for some women,pregnancy can be a highly stressful journey, filled with anxiety, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. In today's fast changing society, we witness a steady rise in the number of expectant mothers in distress.

While normal physiological and hormonal changes during pregnancy cause relatively mild discomfort in the pregnant woman, these changes turn pathological in a small segment of women. In our modern society, we see an increasing trend of expectant mothers in distress such as single parents, migrant women, victims of domestic violence, and women in financial crisis – those denied of family and social support.

Expectant single mothers may experience distress for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulties and a lack of support from family and friends. They may have to face stigma and discrimination from society, including negative attitudes about single motherhood and assumptions about their ability to parent effectively. Uncertainty about parenting can lead to anxiety and self-doubt. Single mothers may be coping with the end of a relationship, which can cause emotional distress, and increase stress during pregnancy, which in turn leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Migrant expectant mothers may experience distress for a variety of reasons, including language and cultural barriers, separation from family and support networks, economic and social challenges, trauma from past experiences and sub-optimal access to healthcare. High levels of stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications such as pre-term labour, low birth weight, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Prenatal stress can also have long-term effects on the child's development, including behavioural and emotional problems. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 15% of all pregnancies worldwide have maternal or foetal complications.

Pastoral care can play an essential role in providing support, helping mothers navigate the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood with compassion, understanding, and practical assistance. Expectant mothers who are experiencing distress need compassionate and non-judgmental pastoral support that addresses their emotional, spiritual, practical, and advocacy needs.

Pastoral caregivers can offer a listening ear, emotional and spiritual support, connect mothers with resources, advocate for them, and provide education to help them feel more confident and prepared for motherhood.

Here are some ways that pastoral care can support expectant mothers in distress:

Provide a listening ear: Expectant mothers may feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, and they need someone who can listen to their concerns without judgment. A pastoral caregiver can provide a safe space for mothers to express their feelings, fears, and worries.

Offer emotional and spiritual support: Pastoral care can help mothers cope with emotional and spiritual issues that may arise during pregnancy, such as anxiety, depression, grief and loss. Pastoral caregivers can offer prayer, encouragement, and other spiritual practices that provide comfort and hope. Because faith can falter in times of anxiety and fear, it is vital not to neglect emotional and spiritual needs.

Connect mothers with resources: Expectant mothers in distress may need practical help, such as financial assistance, housing, or medical care. A pastoral caregiver can connect them with community resources that can help meet their needs.

Advocate for mothers: Pastoral care can also involve advocating for mothers who are experiencing distress. Pastoral caregivers can work with medical professionals, social workers, and other support services to ensure that mothers receive the care and support they need.

Through our care, may we bring the peace of Christ to expectant mothers in distress, so that we too may exhort as Jesus did, "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27 ESV-CE), assuring them that the Lord is with them always.

Sr (Dr) Beena UMI and Bishop Allwyn D'Silva are the Coordinator and Bishop In-charge respectively of the Commission for Health of the Archdiocese of Bombay.

Ordained for Collaborative Mission 

St Pius X College, the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bombay, is deeply grateful to God for the gift of four young men who are to be ordained priests on March 25, 2023, at the hands of our Archbishop, Cardinal Oswald Gracias. 

It would indeed be natural for our newly ordained to be overawed by the daunting challenges of the mission they are going to face in the Church and in society; they surely have the support of the Lord to rely upon. It would also be good for them to be reassured by the fact that the Lord is not calling them to toil alone, but in collaboration with His other workers in the vineyard, namely the religious, and most poignantly, the vast number of the lay faithful. The mission they are being ordained for is a collaborative mission!

This collaboration was indeed the topic of reflection in the Vatican on the weekend of February 16 to 18, 2023, at a Conference for Bishops and Officials of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity, called to reflect on the theme: "Pastors and Lay Faithful Called to Walk Together". Pope Francis' address at this conference dwelt at length on the inner dynamics of this shared responsibility, going far beyond a mere collaboration of convenience.

Taking off with a reference to Synodality in the Church, Pope Francis calls for a genuine and profound collaborative engagement of the Pastors, the religious and the lay faithful in the Church: "The path that God is indicating to the Church is precisely that of a more intense and concrete experience of communion and journeying together. He asks the Church to leave behind ways of acting separately, on parallel tracks that never meet. Clergy separated from laity; consecrated persons from clergy and the faithful; the intellectual faith of certain elites separated from the faith of ordinary people; the Roman Curia from the particular Churches, bishops from priests; young people from the elderly, spouses and families disengaged from the life of the communities, charismatic movements separated from parishes, and so forth."

In order to see this level of collaboration blossom in the Church, it is important to grasp the various dimensions of the deep inner dynamism of apostolic mission. Firstly, the clarion call to collaborate is not just a question of convenience, but a matter of a renewed ecclesiology which develops the foundations for ministerial relationships. As the Pope explains: "The need to enhance the role of the laity is not based on some theological novelty, or due to the shortage of priests, much less a desire to make up for their neglect in the past. Rather, it is grounded in a correct vision of the Church, which is the People of God, of which the laity, together with the ordained ministers, are fully a part. The ordained ministers, then, are not masters, they are servants; shepherds, not masters."

Secondly, we become aware that although ordained ministers are empowered for their ministry through ordination, the link of this sacrament of Holy Orders to the more foundational sacrament of Baptism, shared by everyone in the Church, needs to be more clearly established. This change of perspective requires that in the Church, we give pre-eminence to the sacrament of Baptism in comparison to Holy Orders, since it is the embrace that the Lord gives to all the baptised, bonding them all to Himself, that develops the real fraternity between all the members in the Church, whatever their rank. 

Thirdly, this renewed perspective will ensure that this collaboration flows naturally into both the mission fields — the Church as well as society at large. The Pope explains this very succinctly, clarifying that the lay faithful as well as the ordained ministers are to work both in the Church and in society. Quoting a beautiful idiom from the Puebla Document of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (1979, No. 786), the Pope clarifies that "lay persons are men and women of the Church in the heart of the world, and men and women of the world in the heart of the Church." The Lord clearly expects a profound missionary collaboration of laypersons, priests and religious in order to hasten the establishment of His kingdom in contemporary society.

The Archdiocese of Bombay looks forward to widening its scope of pastoral outreach, both within the Church as well as in society; the Archdiocese is also aware that it has to collaborate more earnestly with secular agencies in tackling new areas of concern like migrants and transgenders. We pray that our Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful may profit from the Church's synodal project and learn to journey together as faithful missionary disciples of the divine Master.

Fr Aniceto Pereira, Rector of St Pius X College, Goregaon – the Archdiocesan Seminary.

An Empowering Encounter 

Fr Anthony Charanghat

The Gospel of John for the Third Sunday in Lent presents the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus at Jacob's well. This account reveals God's relentless Divine mercy in this parable at Lent, through the power of encounter, invitation, transformation, and evangelisation. It is a story of accompaniment, showing how Jesus' fearless and relentless merciful approach seeks the lost, and invites them to new life. He invites us to go into unknown territory, where there is pain, isolation, gender discrimination and vulnerability, bringing hope and renewal. 

 Jesus shows us how pastoral care is part of the Church's evangelising mission, modelling for us what responsible synodal accompaniment looks like. This account is loaded with insights into the human condition, using the power of metaphors and symbols typical of the literary  style of John the Evangelist. By considering just a few of these, we can come to a better understanding of the profound theological meaning embedded in this parable at Lent.

The story of the Samaritan woman begins with Jesus sitting at a well in Samaria. A woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink. The woman is surprised that a Jewish man would speak to her, as Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other due to religious differences. However, Jesus engages her in a conversation that goes beyond surface-level small talk. In this conversation, Jesus treats the woman with dignity and respect, asking her about her life and her struggles. He listens to her story and offers her words of comfort and healing. In doing so, He shows that women have valuable insights and experiences to share, and that their voices deserve to be heard.

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that He is thirsty. But His real thirst is that she would receive life from Him, the "living water" that He longs to give each and every one of us. This is how it always is with God. When He asks for something from us - our obedience, our trust - it is only because He wants to give us a thousand times more. In fact, Jesus tells the woman that if she only knew who He was, she would be asking Him for the gift of living water, water that quenches thirst forever. This water "will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal Life." Jesus is revealing that He is the source of salvation, the source of our restoration, and the end of our search for fulfilment.

The Samaritan woman has heard Jesus ask for water, and thinks she has met someone who wants something from her, but discovers that he is someone who only wants to give. This is the remarkable thirst of God. The Catechism says an important thing about this text: "Jesus is thirsty; His question to the woman arises from the depths of this God who desires us" (CCC 2560).

Jesus knows that the woman has had five husbands, and the one she has now is not her husband. No doubt, these relationships left her thirsting for more, more than any one of our intimate unions in human relationships (marriage) could give. In sacred numerology, the number six is symbolic of imperfection. Jesus represents the seventh person she encounters, mirroring the intimate love of God (marriage of the Lamb of God and His Bride - the Church) the ultimate wholeness and perfection of heaven. Jesus reveals the truth of her existence to her, and presents Himself as living water, the healing she desires.

As soon as the Samaritan woman discovers that Jesus is the Messiah, she (leaves her water jar and) goes back to the city to evangelise her people, saying, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!" Transformed and healed by her encounter with Jesus, she went on to become a great evangeliser, because of her zeal for the Lord. Her thirst was satisfied, hence the abandonment of the water jar. Jesus approaches the vulnerable, identifies their need, and facilitates an encounter with mercy. His love transforms our hearts at Lent, and thus restored, "we go out" to proclaim the Good News with joy!

The Dignity of Women

Women's Day 2023 celebrates the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women across the globe. The achievements of women have not been without fierce struggles. It's a day for women to join voices with people around the world and remind the world that 'every woman counts.' Every woman has the equal right as a man to live in dignity, for God created both man and woman in His own image. Man and woman, regardless of the role they perform, exercise this inalienable right with freedom from fear, coercion, violence and discrimination. Their right to health includes the right to sexual and reproductive health intrinsic to their gender that needs to be respected, provided it does not violate God's precious gift of life.

The Church proclaims the dignity of woman as a dignity equal to man's dignity, and revealed as such in the Biblical account of Creation to complement each other equally as the climax of Creation. This is revealed in the Creation narrative of Genesis expressed in the linguistic style of the poetic imagery of the author as, 'God blew His spirit into the mud of the earth to create man and, as his companion, a woman to complement him from his side, next to his heart and a partner beside him.'

The feminine God-given qualities expressed in scripture quoted above are highlighted in modern parlance as receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity; to underline their singular difference which should be accepted and appreciated by all. Treating people with dignity implies treating them with courtesy, kindness, respecting their God-given rights, giving freedom of choice, listening and taking into consideration what they say, and respecting their wishes and decisions, even if one disagrees.

St Pope John Paul II coined the phrase "feminine genius" in Mulieris Dignitatem, an Apostolic letter published on August 15, 1988, on the dignity of women, referring to the profound and unique gifts women offer to the world. Feminine Genius is the unique capacity women have to uphold the primacy of love in human life. Written into a woman's physiology, even if she never physically carries a child, is "room for another" and an innate sensitivity to the goodness of the human person.

The terms "feminine genius" and the "genius of women" are used to highlight the importance of women, and to indicate that women have done much to advance society in different areas and fields. A well-known quote is: "A woman as well as a man must understand her fulfilment as a person, her dignity and vocation, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of Creation and which she inherits as an expression of the "Image and likeness of God" that is specifically hers."

Dignity comes from this image and likeness of God, an image of perfect love. God created woman with a specific tenderness and mercy, and entrusted her with the responsibility to utilise these gifts to bring about the healing touch and harmony to a callous and rugged humanity. There is the dignity of merit, dignity of moral stature, of identity and a singularly distinct feminine imprint and contours that correspond to 'Human Dignity,' arising from their innate sensitivity and endurance stemming from their typical, gentle response, 'sanctity of person' or 'personal security' to denote the inalienable autonomy of human beings. Such dignity is the right of the person of a woman to be valued and respected.

For over a century, women have been stumbling, struggling, opposing and agonising. Now, we see a welcome change in the general attitude of the world towards women to celebrate Women's Day. Dignity of women is not a gift of men. Women deserve the dignity and respect of equal treatment, to have themselves reflected in social structures, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the height and expression of this dignity and vocation. For no human being, male or female, can truly attain the highest imaginable union with God in whose image and likeness she is made.

Dr Jeanette Pinto is a former Principal of Sophia College, Mumbai, and member of the Diocesan Human Life Committee.

From Sin to Salvation

The readings of the First Sunday of Lent contrast the Old Man with the New Man. Where the Old Adam failed and brought Death into the world, the New Adam triumphed over temptation, and brought Redemption. In a nutshell, it's a programme for Lent that the Church offers us: from a state of fallen-ness, to acknowledging our sinfulness and calling on God's mercy, and finally receiving the spiritual strength to fight temptations like Jesus in the desert, through prayer and fasting.

The word 'tempt' in English usually means to entice someone to do what is wrong or forbidden. The scriptural word used here also means 'test' in the sense of proving and assessing someone to see if they are prepared and ready for the task at hand. We test flight pilots to see if they are fit to fly under all conditions, including times of adverse turbulence, storms, and poor visibility. In like manner, God tests His people to see if they are ready to follow and serve Him without reservation or compromise.

When God called Moses to free the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, God led them into the wilderness to His holy mountain at Sinai. There Moses ascended the mountain and met with God face to face for 40 days in prayer and fasting (Exodus 24:18). The prophet Elijah was also led on a 40-day journey to the holy mountain at Sinai (also called Horeb) to seek the face of God.

Temptations may come in various colours and hues, situations and sizes, but the foundational temptation through the course of human history has been singular; and every other temptation is but an extension of it: Disobedience of God. The devil's tempting of Jesus in the desert revolves around the same thread: disobey your Father and come, follow me. This is where Adam and Eve failed, scores of our ancestors failed, and we today continue to do so in varying degrees. The temptation to disobey our Heavenly Father is presented to us in subtle and beguiling ways.

"Think only of yourself, think of yourself first," says the disquieting voice of the world that rings constantly in our minds. The world can lead us to believe that the most important thing in the world is to think about oneself, to save oneself. This temptation returns to Jesus in His final moments, when He is hanging on the Cross, "Come down from the Cross; if you are the Son of God, save yourself!" When I choose my ego, my comfort, my ambitions, my plans, I reject God…not consciously maybe, but yes, unconsciously. We have unknowingly chosen to disobey God and succumbed to the guiles of the evil one.

The first temptation that Jesus faces – that of satisfying His physical hunger by turning stones into bread – is replicated innumerable times today in our thirst for 'experiences' in order to feel good about our lives. Scroll through 'Stories' on social media, and you will find an endless cascade of dining experiences, holiday and travel experiences, romantic and sexual exhibitionism, me-cool-my-personality-cooler images accompanied by abstract quotes pretending to be philosophical and wisdom-y. The short version? - the need to prove to the world that my life means something by diving into an endless saga of experiences every weekend and showcasing them on social media for the world to see.

This is where Jesus won the first time; He had come to serve, not be served himself; and He had come to do His Father's will, not His own. He did not have to prove anything to the world by satisfying His personal cravings; His identity as 'God's Son' was enough. In the same way, Christ has given us the privilege of being called sons and daughters of God. Isn't it enough that we revel in the sweetness of this relationship? Isn't it enough that God has already blessed us with life, family, friends, talent and an opportunity to live out our vocation? Do we still need an endless torrent of worldly stimuli and experiences to make ourselves feel good? Lent is an invitation to give up this temptation.

The Church has been preparing us for the past few weeks with readings from Genesis, reminding us how God created us in love, and the expectations that God has from us for a life well-lived. The Gospel readings took us through the Sermon on the Mount, where we were invited to go beyond the normal ethic of good and evil, and instead become salt and light to the world.

Lent is an opportunity for new life, a new direction, a new focus; let us grab this opportunity with both hands and pray in the words of the psalmist - A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

Pillars of Penitential Practices 

Fr Anthony Charanghat

Ash Wednesday awakens us to our common humanity as dusty and fallible creatures, in need of grace, repentance, and transformation. The beginning of Lent with ashes on our forehead makes visible the tangible transience of things and our own mortality. Ashes are a symbol of humility, our earthiness, acknowledging that our ultimate destiny is beyond this earthly life. We recognize by means of these ashes, that we are not yet all that the Lord wants us to be. Hence the imposition of ashes on the brow of our heads by the priests calling us to, 'repent and believe in the Gospel'.

The call of the first reading by the prophet Joel, expresses and captures the primary message of Lent, "Come back to me with all your heart". The opening words of Jesus in the Gospel of that day, 'fasting, prayer and almsgiving' focus on the three pillars of penitential practices during Lent that help us to a whole-hearted more full return to the Lord. These represent our life-long efforts to remain steadfast on the pathways to the sublime goal of dying and rising with Christ to a New Life.

The three Lenten practices are pathways that are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. The gospels show that Jesus himself fasted, prayed and engaged in various forms of almsgiving or self-giving service of others. We can come back to the Lord with great confidence because the Lord is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness. As we return towards the Lord, he comes more than half-way to meet us. Indeed, His grace draws us to himself, if we are open to it. Saint Paul calls upon us not to 'neglect the grace of God that you have received'. 

The Lord is already at work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Our calling is to yield to that work of the Lord deep within us and in so doing to draw closer to the Lord. The ashes that we receive on our forehead on Ash Wednesday are a sign of our desire to grow in our relationship with the Lord who so loved us that he laid down his life for us. Jesus affirms the value of penitential practices of Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. But he warns us against engaging in these practices in a way that draws attention to ourselves. What seems like something virtuous can be very self-serving in reality. 

Pope Francis has said the following about fasting or self-denial, "Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts; no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance". 

Pope Francis sees self-denial or fasting as in the service of our helping and enriching others, or what we might call almsgiving. Fasting also serves our prayer, as Jesus showed by his forty days in the wilderness. There is always that other-centred dimension to our fasting and self-denial, whether the other is God directly as in prayer or God present in others as in almsgiving. 

Lent is a time to reflect on how we might take up these three practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting, so as to grow more fully into our baptismal calling. We take ashes on this Ash Wednesday as a sign of our desire, our commitment, to grow in our response to the Lord's calling by means of these three great Lenten pillars. 

To make this year more innovative, can we make our penances more relevant and practical? Can we give up certain things to promote the greater good of justice, environmental healing, and the survival of democratic institutions at home and abroad? Can a nation's divergent political parties splurging extravagantly to promote its political leaders at the cost of the poor eschew such policies, to unite and support the victims of Ukraine and those suffering from the earthquake disaster in Turkey?

Life is fragile, and we hope for spiritual wholeness, and perhaps, everlasting life evolving in companionship with God and our loved ones.