Journeying back into history – Orvieto, Italy

There are no coincidences for people of faith; so it is in faith that I make this journey to Orvieto, Italy. But this journey will also be historic for a gift given in love and passed from one hand to other will now journey back to be exhibited in the town that it was made and gifted.

Orvieto is a city perched on a volcanic rock cliff, a thousand feet above a valley that overlooks Cyprus trees, in Umbria, Italy. Orvieto was one of the major centres of Etruscan civilizations, a Roman town and thanks to its defensible position it became an important city of Medieval Italy. It is also home to the Duomo or cathedral named after the Assumption of Mary and is one of the most opulent pieces of Gothic architecture.  Five popes left Rome and resided in Orvieto, mostly in the time period from 1261 to 1304.

But the present Cathedral which replaced a dilapidated Church was built to house a precious relic of Eucharistic importance. In 1263, a German priest was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped at Lake Bolsena, near the Umbrian town of Orvieto, to celebrate Holy Mass. Though a pious priest, he found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host.

While celebrating Holy Mass above the tomb of St. Christina (located in the church named for this martyr), he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighbouring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

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Seeking the shepherd!

In all probability your pulpit may see a new face on the first Sunday in June. For the Archdiocese of Bombay this is transfer time and even though I am not being transferred, I thought a few helpful tips for my lay brothers and sisters are in order.

  1. The priest is a stranger to your parish community.

It may seem to you that priests ‘come and go’ (as some lay faithful love to bandy about), but they are human; flesh and blood men who have emotions and feelings. Understand that they have just been called out from a parish they may have served and loved for several years. Many of their former congregants are are now close friends and perhaps even considered family. With a stroke of the Archbishop’s pen they have to leave it all and move to a new parish. Perhaps they do it willingly, but make no mistake it weighs heavily on the heart. Now that he has arrived in your parish, the best thing you can do for this ‘stranger’ is to make him feel welcome. You don’t have to wait for Vianney Sunday to pump his hand. You can simply accost him in the sacristy and greet him if he is a bit wary to stroll with confidence in the Church compound on his first Sunday. A smile is all it takes, and for good measure throw in a word of welcome.

  1. Remember it’s tough to start all over again

Think of when you moved jobs, when you moved homes or when you changed a mind-set. Starting over is never easy. Now that the priest has come in to your parish he needs to understand its ethos, figure out its needs, and connect with the people; the list goes on. Cut him some slack for a while. Don’t measure him up to the standards of the former priest who has just left after having been with you for five odd years. The truth is that it takes a priest almost a year to figure out the parish and another year for the parishioners to figure him out. By the time everyone has begun to trust each other and get along just fine, it’s often the end of his third year and then just when the honeymoon begins, the marching orders arrive. So don’t hang on to the side lines; make sure the ball is in play from the minute the priest arrives.

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Your Eminence, Your Lordships, dear fathers, religious sisters and brothers and my dear people of God.

Emblazoned on the arch above this altar are the words, “do not be afraid I am with you.” There are some who hold that these words appear in these or in similar words, 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. From Abraham in Genesis to the disciples in the Gospels, the message of God to his people has always been one of hope and encouragement.

But these words also have special significance for us as family here at St Jude’s. Our principal patron St Jude, is the patron of the least and the lost. Through him, devotees who come in fear, find an intercessor most sure. But this Church also has a second patron in St John Paul II. Seven years ago before I left on a trip to Rome, our parishioners came with a request that we take on the unfinished task of searching for a plot of land.

At that point I was least convinced of the idea but yet at the tomb of St John Paul II I laid our petition. “If it is the will of God” I said, “grant us through your intercession a plot of land.” This is the saint who all his life encouraged the youth and the faithful all over the world to not be afraid. I arrived back in Mumbai on the first day of the novena in preparation for the feast of St Jude. Our patron saints in heaven must have collaborated overtime during those nine days for on the last day of the novena we were told there was a plot of land. And here we are today standing on the very plot of land that we obtained through the intercession of two saints who taught us not be afraid.

Over these last six years, we learnt that because the wind is against you it does not mean that God is not for you. We learnt that God does not place us in the storm to test us; he puts us in the storm to teach us, and teach us he did. We had to learn to pray the panic away. Often we wanted wine and He pointed to water but like Mary we never told Jesus the solution, we told him our need; like Mary we did not know what to do but we knew who to go to.

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MISERY MEETS MERCY: ‘The Woman Taken in Adultery’ by Rembrandt (1644)

 As the nineteen year old protégé sits across the river-bank in the Dutch city of Leiden, he arduously strains to get to the heart of the biblical moment through his art. His first painting was ‘The Stoning of Stephen’ dated 1625. Then on there was no looking back. His unique, uncompromising and innovative style brought the Bible to life.

‘The Bible was real to Rembrandt: a real book about real people…His Jesus is a Jew, and not a particularly handsome one. His apostles are men who fear when they should be brave and sleep when they should stay awake, rough and rustic men, unsophisticated, often slow to catch on, men who show not the slightest hint of sainthood. His patriarchs are as flawed, as conniving, as prone to mistake and subject to weakness as the Bible reports them to have been.’

– John Durham ‘The Biblical Rembrandt ’

Rembrandt called a spade a spade through his fierce and yet gentle strokes of paint. To the modern eye his distortions and abstractions may appear dull and husky but when peered through the window of one’s soul, the painting introduces us to the genius of the ‘painter of painters.’ The mystery and magic in his art can be explored through the painting in consideration.

Titled ‘The Woman Taken in Adultery’, the painting was executed in 1644 and is now housed at the National Gallery in London. The subject draws inspiration from the Gospel of John chapter 8, verses 1 – 11. A woman caught in adultery by a group of ‘pious Pharisees and scribes’ is dragged and casted before Christ. Indeed a clever attempt to kill a ‘mocking bird’ and a scapegoat by a single stone.

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The simple truth: if you are ‘high’ all the while you must be snorting coke!

Here is the simple truth; No one is on a ‘high’ twenty four seven and if you are ‘high’ all the while you must be snorting coke!   I write this with a sense of irony because our world has now come to seek these peak moments constantly, every hour if not every day.

No one really has these constant euphoric moments and exhilarating days and the absence of them should not lead one to fallaciously conclude that they are ‘depressed’. Sadly the term ‘depression’ is very widely used by people who are not actually depressed but temporarily unhappy. And to be honest, I take umbrage to the glib use of the word ‘depressed’ by some flippant teeny boppers  and those who don’t really understand what people who truly suffer from depression go through.

Most people have ordinary days but that does not mean they have ordinary lives. Our lives are filled with beautiful tasks that have been made to sound mundane and we have foolishly come to believe it to be true. As a consequence we have come to accept that the acts we perform each day are no more than boring routine actions.

So let me give you an example.  If Master Chef told you that today for breakfast  you would be served piping hot fermented batter of ground rice  steamed in circular moulds and served with a dip of spicy coconut shavings  you would end up eating nothing more than  our humble ‘idli’ made to sound like it was being named dish of the year.

So why then have we come to believe that the routine is mundane? Why have we come to believe that feeding our family, cleaning our home, working a nine to five job, celebrating a birthday in the confines of our home or walking in the park is boring? These actions of ours bring life to others and there is nothing mundane in life giving actions.

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