Rich Man, Poor Man

March 29, 2014 at 10:10 am

The readings for today’s liturgy reinforce the Courage to Change reading from today ( see post immediately below):

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings.  Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord .”    The Bible often presents life in stark terms.  You are forced to make a decision.  You can clearly see the implications of one’s choices.  This quote reminds me again of where an individual finds the source of their self- worth.  Is it in the affirmation of others or is it in God?  Another stark choice is presented in the New Testament reading which asks us whether we will care for the poor man at our door or ignore him.

Whether the Hebrew scriptures or our New Testament, the Bible frequently wages  what is called “class warfare” by some today.  You are not allowed to be comfortable with the idea of chasing money or building security for oneself.  Recall the parable of the farmer who builds a second silo for his grain so that he may enjoy the bread while others are in need, but dies before the silo is completed.    The poor may be more visible in India, but they are present everywhere in the world.  They may be isolated or sheltered where they cannot be seen frequently in the US.  The Bible keeps them ever before us reminding us to take care of them.  “Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘ there was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.’”  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that we should give to all who beg.  He encourages us to share our bounty or experience of God’s abundance. God is the source of all.  We are the fiduciaries of what we receive.  It is not really ours.  We must use it well.

Lord help us to discern your way this day.  Your thoughts are above our thoughts.  Your ways are above our ways.  Help us be faithful stewards of what you have given us.  Let us not be fools who are separated easily from their money, but let us not cling to it either out of fear or insecurity.  Let us be prudent and wise with its use and spend it as you would have us spend it.  Change our frame of reference, our paradigm,  our view of the world as it needs to be opened up or broadened to accommodate You .  Use this Lent, to purify and cleanse us so that we may see You in others and find Your way.

4th Step of 12 Step Program Hitting Right Between The I’s

March 29, 2014 at 10:04 am

Courage to Change reading was directed right at me this morning.  Perhaps I was ready for it since I had a long quiet time.  Perhaps I was ready for it because I systematically worked steps 1-4 in January and February.  Whatever the reason, thank you Lord for your word to me today.

Step 4:  Made a SEARCHING and FEARLESS moral inventory of ourselves.

One of the topics for this inventory is self-worth.  “ I have found that  I have always judged my value on the basis of my accomplishments, or on what other people said about me.  This meant I had to work all the time, or constantly make myself the center of attention.  At best my sense of satisfaction was fleeting.”  Call it people pleasing. Call it fear of failing and needing to succeed.  It has been and remains a big motivator for me.  It is very human to need this affirmation from others. It does make us feel good to experience the respect that can come with a position of authority, responsibility, or money.  It does feel good to feel part of the “in crowd” that may be the equivalent of the “Big Men on Campus” even if it is a case of being a big fish in a small pond oftentimes.  But all that is shifting sand if that is where we find our self-worth.  I used to enjoy reading books on the Holocaust such as Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” or Elie Wiesel’s books as well as Solzhenitsyn’s books ( A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) on the Russian Gulag  which capture human beings who have been stripped bare of all externalities.  They have no fancy cars, expensive artwork, big houses.  They are all gone.  They are no longer respected physicians, actors, athletes or business people.  It is all gone. What is left?  How do they react?  Where do they find their self- worth?

“With Step Four, I realized that part of my self-worth can be based on my ability to love other people.  Saying a kind word, writing a considerate note, or just taking time out from my other thoughts to appreciate another human being, enriches my entire day.  I have the power to feel good about myself, regardless of my achievements, whether or not other people validate my worthiness.”

Step 4 follows steps which foster a connection with one’s Higher Power as one comes to understand who or what that means for them.   Hence today’s reading closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln who is not often viewed as a religious man.  Yet some of his writings reflect a deep relationship or understanding of the workings of the Almighty.  Perhaps borne out of presiding over a bloody civil war and his experience of depression:

“It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.”

Intellectually I recognize and acknowledge that God is truly the source of our self-worth.  We are children of a loving God. We are His/Her kindred.   Let us ask the Lord that

“ We may grasp with our hearts how we are immersed in love.  May we recognize You in others and in the events of our lives.   Experiencing your love, may we share your love with our brothers and sisters.  May we say a kind word and appreciate those with whom we spend time today.  May we love as You love.”

St Joseph and Jim Susi pray for us

March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

On St Joseph’s Feast  Day,  some students would spread out table clothes on the cafeteria table, light candelabra and bring in elaborate meals.  These were the Italian students at my high school celebrating their heritage.  It always falls shortly after St Patrick’s Day.   Wikepedia indicates that the celebrations originated in Sicily when the intercessory prayers of St Joseph were credited with ending a drought.  I know that we had a lot of Sicilians at Fenwick, but I have always associated the celebration with the larger Italian family.   In retrospect, I appreciate the Catholic culture that I experienced growing up in a bit of an Irish/Italian/Polish ghetto  while being educated in the Catholic school system.  But I digress…St Joseph is a patron saint for a few groups.

St Joseph the Worker  is the patron saint of laborers.  The Catholic Worker includes him on its mast head and also has one of its original homes named after him.  Of course, we always view him as a carpenter.  It is just as likely that he was a masonry worker.  A humble common laborer.  Probably living at a subsistence level like so many masonry workers in India.

He is also the patron saint of a good death which I learned  on St Joseph’s Feast Day shortly before another wonderful Italian  brother,  Jim Susi, entered the afterlife.  I happened to attend a noon hour Mass at the Cathedral  a few years ago and the priest shared Joseph’s role  for the dying as part of his homily.  I realized at that Mass that Jim had fought the good fight, but was not going to make it.  He was a Navy Seal and fought a terrible cancer  to the bitter end only accepting death a few days before he died.

Of course, Joseph was also  the father of Jesus.  We do not know much about him from the Gospel narratives, but he who knows the son,  will know the father.  Don’t all of us sons find it spooky sometimes how we mirror our fathers?   I am sure  that there must have been much of Joseph in Jesus since  we all learn how to relate to the world from our fathers and mothers.

St Joseph and brother Jim Susi pray for us that we may reflect the faithfulness and love of our Heavenly Father.  Pray that we may possess the wisdom of God  to see others and the world as God does…grounded in God’s love.  Pray for us now and at  the hour of our death. Amen.

Demographic Dividend or Time Bomb?

March 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm

According to the Times of India (TOI),  “About 50% or India’s I.21 billion population is less than 25 years old.”   This  bulge is frequently referred to as a demographic dividend that provides an advantage for India when compared to other emerging or growing economies such as China’s.  However, rather than being an advantage it could be a disadvantage.   The public sector needs to be cleaned up and the private sector needs to be freed up  in order to provide jobs for this generation of the future as illustrated by the following statistics cited by TOI:

“India ranks 134th of 189 countries, according to a World Bank report on ease of doing business.  On ease of starting a business, it ranks even lower: 166.  The report says that 35 permissions/procedures are required to construct a warehouse.”  To open a bar and restaurant in one of the states ( Maharashta)  requires 38 licenses.  All of these steps create opportunities for bribery.    Corruption is cited as the first or second issue by voters in this year’s  political campaign.   There is constant discussion in the newspapers that this red tape needs to be eliminated to free entrepreneurs from “rent seeking” bureaucrats.

The  corrupt political ruling class does very well for themselves.  They are definitely in the 1 percent if not the .1 of one percent.  It is hard to imagine that they will be interested in Lenten repentance ( 🙂 ) .  There is an election coming up in a couple of months and the anti-corruption party that  won popular support in Delhi a few months ago is attempting to field a national party.  Unfortunately, its leader is making one mistake after another.  He resigned after being in office less than one month to make a political point and has threatened to jail the media recently since they are acting like a free press acts.    India is another democratic experiment.  60 years old.   Folks here are frustrated as they are in the US with the political process and lack of effective governance.  A “tough guy” is running ahead in the polls presently.

Speaking of the election, the press commonly refers to “Sops”.  Sops are what the politicians not only promise but actually provide to certain constituencies.  Want to pay less for your water?  We can arrange that!   One of the more interesting sop requests was reported in today’s paper.  In the state of Haryana, a group of men have banded together because of the “ gender imbalance resulting out of widespread female” infanticide.   The guys have coined a slogan “Get us a bride to get our vote.”   20 is considered the ideal age for marriage in the rural areas of Haryana.  Surveys have shown that almost 15 percent of the men 25-29 remain unmarried.  While the bachelors are not really serious about a candidate or the government finding them brides,  they have contributed to raising awareness about the need to save female infants.    The ratio of women to men in Haryana is 877:1000.  See one of my earlier posts about why female infanticide is so prevalent.  The men are also complaining that unemployment is the reason why they cannot find a suitable woman.

According to the Economic Times, there is some good news on the poverty front in India which may be encouraging for employing the demographic bulge. In the past decade, more than 140 million people or 2.18 percent of the population have moved past the poverty line.    Ten years ago 40 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty earning $1.25/day.  Now it is 25 percent.  The “moderately poor”  earn from $1.25-2/day. That percentage has stayed relatively stable as it increased from 35 to 37 percent.  The increase in the standard of living is more apparent among the next two categories of “near poor” and the “developing middle class”.  The near poor ( $2-4/day) have increased form 20 percent to 29 percent and the developing middle class ( $4-13/day) has gone from 4 to 8 percent.   Stats are from the International Labor Organization.

Some quick observations:

1)      This is good news?  I suppose it is positive that there is a bit of a rising tide.  For India’s sake, I hope that people do not feel left behind by the benefits of globalization.  Otherwise, it would not be surprising to see either a Fascist leader or the Great Socialist leader emerge.

2)      Wonder how differently it feels to be moderately poor versus extremely poor?  A distinction that is perhaps meaningful to those who talk about the poor rather than to the poor themselves.

3)      Provides new perspective on the beggars that I see daily to whom people will give coins that are the equivalent of nickels and dimes.   Mr. Shah has counseled me in the past that these folks all have homes and families to which they can return.  He is a bit impatient with them.   I often wonder if one should encourage young children’s begging as it may become their lifelong occupation.

4)      Anirudh Krishna of Duke has shown that folks in the developing middle class are one illness away from slipping back into poverty.

5)      Add up the percentages and you have 99 percent.   Reminds me of the 99 percent movement a few years ago in the US.  Curious coincidence or an economic global phenomenon?

6)      Our driver and housemaid fit in the developing middle class along with  textile mill workers, cash crop farmers, shop salesman, carpenters, auto rickshaw drivers.   The term of developing middle class seems a misnomer.  Mr. Shah would like to leave India and go to Dubai or somewhere where he would make enough money that he could save some.  He promises to wait until we go back to the US. 🙂

7)      Perhaps we have adjusted to India, but it does seem that in general folks are making do albeit at a subsistence level.  Yet, there is still plenty of work for the Missionaries of Charity.

India is Blessed Teresa’s land where she desired to do what is pleasing to God in the smallest detail.  She sought to “ discern carefully and obey the slightest manifestations of God’s will.” ( Mother Teresa  Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk).  She knew that she was called “to bring Christ into the unhappy holes of the slums of the Calcutta poor…nursing the sick in their homes—helping the dying to make their peace with God…helping the beggars of the streets to lead respectful lives.”  Making a “home for the lame, the blind , the outcasts of human society…to bring souls to God, and God to souls.”

Bird Sanctuary

March 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Just back from US.  2nd night sleeping.  Slept from 1030 to 630.    How great is that.  Take that jet lag.  But skipped working out since I am afraid that I am getting a cold.   Instead I sat on our balcony looking over the beautifully landscaped courtyard.   Sunny.  Mild.  Watching  the bird kingdom wake up.  All kinds of variety of birds.  Medium sized green ones. Tiny birds. The size of hummingbirds. Flitting in pairs across the courtyard from tree to tree just above me.  Dark colored.  Bluish tint.  Then in the trees of our neighbors, 2 large birds with very long tails and extraordinary beaks.  Camouflaged by their brown color.  They are similar in size to a large black crow but their beaks and tails have to be 12-18 inches in length.   Then later, there is another large bird feeding on some kind of berry or seedlings in another tree in our neighbor’s yard.  Also similar in size to a large crow but with a brown trim body speckled with white spots.  This is what I am missing when I go to yoga or head downstairs to the workout facility to run on the treadmill.

Now a couple hours later, there is a loud cacophony of honking horns rising up from the streets below.  A constant din.  Then I hear pigeons that like to roost where we have a closet of water pipes on our back balcony.  There were four of them inside the metal grills before I chased them away.  The Muslims consider them holy birds of a sort.  When Muhammad was fleeing some warlords with whom he had been mixing it up, he ducked into a cave full of pigeons.  His enemies passed on and could not find him.  So the Muslims love to feed the pigeons and spread seeds out on the floor of their open mosques.  Kathleen thinks that we should leave them alone.  I guess that they will not hurt anything.  Our Muslim Man Friday likely will not want to mess with them.


Monkey Menace!

February 18, 2014 at 4:34 am

A letter written to the Times of India newspaper seeks relief from a monkey menace:

I am a student residing in PS Nagar colony.  This is to bring to the notice of the authorities that monkeys are creating havoc in our colony.  Children going to school run the risk of having their lunchboxes snatched away.  The monkeys also try to grab vegetable bags and trouble banana sellers.  I appeal to the authorities to rein in these animals before more harm is done.

Zainab Ifrah


Indian Spices and Might is Right

February 16, 2014 at 9:38 am

The contrasts between the US and India come more quickly to mind than the similarities.  The spices used in Indian food often make it hotter than eating a raw pepper.  American food is bland by comparison.  I have cultivated an openness to the ways of India.  After all isn’t it marvelous how  cultures that developed in isolation from one another can look at the experiences of life and construct different paradigms, filters, stories and customs for humans to understand or manage our way through life?  Who am I to be dismissive or judgmental of how another culture sees and lives life?  A people can have a different approach rather than a lesser one.    However, the longer that I am here,  I am concluding that it is possible to judge one way is better than another.    I will let you make your judgments.  I thought it might be fun to list some of the contrasts that we have experienced in this and future posts.  Anyone who has been to India will bobble their head to the left and then back to the right several times in recognition.

Western society is very organized.  The subcontinent is very chaotic.  I recall one of Patrick’s Ugandan friends visiting us in Columbus and talking about how “organized” we are.  I was not sure what he meant at the time.  Now I do.  For example, the driving is here is completely lawless by our standards.  The lanes painted on roads are completely irrelevant.  A road that is painted to have two lanes going each way, will have three cars or trucks abreast with motorcycles flitting in between them.  At a stoplight, there will be 10-20-30 motorcycles side by side waiting for the light to change.  Stop signs do not exist and stoplights are rare.  You get through intersections by driving your vehicle as you honk into the middle of the intersection if there is any daylight between  other cars.  My driver almost hit 3 motorcycles that darted into his path yesterday.    However, there is some courtesy as cars will slow down as you push into the road.  It is not quite a game of chicken.

The same principle applies to any queues.  Why wait in line when you can walk to the front of it, make excuses and get the attention of any clerk?  With Patrick and Martin, we were flying from Goa to Delhi and were patiently waiting in line to get through security. We had already stood in a queue to have our baggage scanned and then went to another queue to stand in line to get our boarding pass and check our scanned baggage. Now we were in our third queue. After about 10 minutes of winding our way toward the security check and just as we approached the soldier  who checks your id and boarding pass, a few gentlemen cut in front of the guy in front of me.  I said “Excuse Me, the back of the line is over there.”   They responded that they were afraid that they were going to be late for their flight.  I said I had the same concern.    They could care less.

In general, folks are accustomed to simply walking to the front of any line and when there is more than one individual at a time pushing to the front, it becomes standard operating procedure.  Gandhi described his experience of traveling by train in his autobiography  The Story of My Experiments with Truth.  In his quest for Truth which he identified as God, he sought to be “humbler than dust.  The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him…  Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth….Christianity and Islam also amply bear it out.”  That had to be said so that you can comprehend his behavior when purchasing a ticket.  He would only ride third class because of his desire to be humble:

“We came face to face with the hardships that a third class passenger has to go through even in securing his ticket.  ‘Third class tickets are not booked so early’ we were told.  I went to the Station Master, though that too was a difficult business.  Someone kindly directed me to where he was, and I represented to him our difficulty.  He also made the same reply.  As soon as the booking window opened, I went to purchase the tickets.  But it was no easy thing to get them.  Might was right, and passengers, who were forward and indifferent to others, coming one after another, continued to push me out.  I was therefore about the last of the first crowd to get a ticket.

The train arrived, and getting into it was another trial.  There was a free exchange of abuse and pushes between passengers already in the train and those trying to get in.  We ran up and down the platform, but were everywhere met with the same reply:  ‘No room here’.  I went to the guard.  He said, ‘ you must try to get in where you can or take the next train.’  ‘But I have urgent business.’”

We had a similar experience in Dubai.  We decided to ride the spanking new Metro to visit the fort that was the original Dubai.  However when the elevated light rail train stopped, there was not much room available in the last carriage.  We pushed our way on.  At the next stop, we were informed by one of the passengers that this carriage was for women only.  I apologized and the four of us stepped out.  We walked towards the front of the train and  I proceeded to push my way onto another carriage.  Unfortunately, the doors closed before Kathleen and the boys could enter.  The train departed without them.  Patrick had been our navigator.  Fortunately he had shared with me which stop was our destination so I was hopeful that we would meet there.  In the meantime, I realized that I was again in a female carriage!  At the next stop, I managed to find my way to one where I belonged. Thank God at the appropriate, but busy stop which was a junction,  we managed to find each other as Patrick spotted me when their later train arrived.



More Theresa

February 14, 2014 at 5:10 am

Is it possible to get enough?  Think not.

Some quotes for today:

We must not create difficulties in our own minds.  To be holy doesn’t mean to do extraordinary things, to understand big things, but it is a simple acceptance, because I have given myself to God, because I belong to God—my total surrender.  He could put me here.  he could put me there.  He can use me. he cannot use me.  It doesn’t matter because I belong so totally to Him that he can do just what He wants to do with me.

Wherever God has put you , that is your vocation.  It is not what we do but how much love we put into it.

Tommy’s Birthday

January 28, 2014 at 4:55 am

Today is the day that Thomas Aquinas died in 1274.  Since I went to a Dominican High School, our religion classes were lessons in his teaching.  Since Grandpa was Aristotelian and often said that Thomas baptized Aristotle, he often talked about virtue and the importance of habits for a good character.  While Carmel spoke of John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, it was also imbued with Thomistic thought.  Here are some quotes for today from him:

Grant me, O lord my God,  a mind to know you,  a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you , and a hope of finally embracing you.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

The things that we love tell us what we are.

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.

To love God is something greater than to know Him.


Merry Christmas! I have Tidings of Great Joy

January 26, 2014 at 10:48 am

Call it a belated Christmas message.   We did not get around to sending out Christmas cards this year.  Yes I said Christmas.  How politically incorrect.

Over here in India, people do not care about that.  They wish me Happy (Whatever the Festival Day Is) with eyes filled with great joy.  And believe me it seems like there is a festival every week here.  Recently they had a festival similar to our Thanksgiving that was based on the rice harvest.  One of the expats from Spain with whom I golf told me it was one of the few that he understood.  He also said that in his research ( his wife works and he plays golf daily, Face books  and apparently researches cultural items) that he found out that there are 60 Indian holidays.  Companies are required to provide 8 holidays for the festivals.  That does not stop our employees from taking time off for the others.

Today is Republic Day.   India has been a republic for 60 years.    A different Indian  golf mate  ( who lived in the US for years and  runs the  back office of Diebold here) shared with me that India is a modern concept borne out of the independence movement.  He said that India is similar to Europe.   Historically it is a region of hundreds of kingdoms.  The British were the first ones to consolidate the subcontinent which also included Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka.   ( I generally golf once a week despite creating an impression it is otherwise).

My favorite Jesuit this morning celebrated India’s diversity and what a great gift India is from God.  He highlighted how India is the only country in the subcontinent that has not devolved into a military dictatorship like the other countries mentioned above and the Philippines.  Unlike China, where political malcontents are jailed and human rights are nonexistent, a recent anti-corruption political reformer was swept into office as the governor of the state that includes Delhi.  Fr. Raj  focused on the variety of languages, customs and traditional dances.  He said  that India is unique by  harnessing such diversity.   ( He is always  mindful of my presence in the pews and mentioned how the US has also successfully managed diversity making a home for the Irish, Italians, Germans and more recently the Hispanics.)

He tied Republic Day backed to the readings of the day.  In particular,  Isaiah spoke of rod of the oppressor being thrown off and of those sitting in darkness seeing a great light in the land of Galilee.  He also referenced an ancient Vedic text which he said that they all would know.  He quoted a text about the spiritual journey from darkness to light.  He then stated that the constitution embodies a movement from darkness to light and how the fathers of India dreamed of establishing a classless, cooperative, free and happy society.  He then quoted Gandhi saying that it would not be a free country until a woman could walk safely through the streets at night alone.    (Rather sobering given weekly if not daily reports of women being gang raped here.)  The message was one of optimism, hope and a movement from darkness to light for all of us as followers of Jesus.

In his opening prayer and in his homily he also invoked JFK’s  “Ask not what your country do for you , but ask what you can do for your country.”    It is amazing how the Kennedy’s brief moment made such an impression.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Indian pride in their country.  It is pretty amazing.   A country of  1.2 billion people that definitely has it challenges but has successfully cultivated the fragile flower of democracy for 60 years.  Just feeding all these people successfully is an accomplishment.  Walking down our street you can see beautiful fruit displays for sale.

But I digress…I do have specific tidings of great joy.    This news also ties into today’s readings where Jesus told James and John to leave their boats and fishing nets.  “Follow Me.”

After Christmas, Patrick and Martin returned with us to visit Dubai and India as you will see elsewhere on my blog.  The evening before their departure we had another birthday dinner to celebrate Patrick turning 36 the next day.  At that dinner, Patrick said that he will be returning to the US after 5 years in China in August.  Not only that.  He has decided to enter Mundelein seminary outside Chicago to study to become a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Kathleen and I choked up as he announced the news.

As my mom said,  “Deep down don’t you know that it is right?”  Indeed.   Mark Ricketts said “God has touched his heart.”

As the hart in the desert pants for water, may we share Patrick’s thirst for God and see rivers of water break out in the desert.  Keep him in your prayers as he responds to God’s call to leave all and Follow Jesus.