A vegetable garden soaked in blood – Monday, 11th week in ordinary time – 1Kings 21:1-16

There is a familiarity with this storyline of today’s text. Lest you strain your brain, 2 Samuel 12:1-5 tells us of the greed and lust of King David in taking Bathsheba for his wife; this, when scripture names eight of his wives while mentioning that he had many more.

 What makes a person believe that they can snatch away even the meagerness of the poor when their coffers are bursting? In Ahab’s case, we might be compelled to attribute it to his nature. Chapter 16 of the same book tells us that he was the worst King of Israel in Yahweh’s eyes. How then do we explain King David, a man handpicked by God himself to be ruler over his people?

At the heart of these narratives lies two realities that find themselves doing a robust tango; power and greed. Even those who sit on a stool of power (much less a chair) begin to think that they are not accountable to anyone, trouble sets in. They falsely come to believe that the power they wield is everlasting. How the mighty have fallen, yet history has taught us so little. But when power gets intoxicated, it pushes its boundaries to poach on any and every area and greed is first on that list.

Ahab had God’s mercy poured all over him. Chapter 20 tells us of two battles which God won for him over Benhadad, King of Aram (Syria). God ensured a total victory for Ahab and Samaria. Benhadad had come against the nation of Israel will a coalition of 32 kings. Israel on the other hand had a rag-tag army of young men who served as district governors. These were no fighting men!

Yet God wanted to make a point; He was the one who would win a victory for Israel and not Ahab. Ahab, could not see the light. For him, this was his victory and he went against the wishes of God and made a treaty with the enemy whom he was told to destroy. Ahab made human alliances rejecting the covenant that he had in place with God.

Now that power has intoxicated him, greed stood next in line. Ahab had the world at his feet and yet he coveted Naboth’s vineyard to cultivate vegetables. Naboth declined the offer of money because the vineyard was his ancestral property. The Lord, the owner of all of the land of Israel, had forbidden Israelite families to surrender ownership of family lands permanently (Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 36:7-9). Naboth feared God, not Ahab. This sale of his land was never on the table in the first place.

The text of today tells us of Ahab’s shenanigans. A king with a crown throws a star tantrum. We are told he is ‘resentful and sullen.’ ‘He lays down on his bed, turning away his face, refusing to eat.’  His tantrums come to the attention of Jezebel, his queen and wife.  Her evil was legendary.

Like with Christ, a mock trial is called for at the behest of Jezebel. False witnesses (in this case two scoundrels) bring charges that Naboth has blasphemed against God and the king. These charges are ratified by the ‘men of the city’, the elders and the noblemen. At Jezebel’s bidding, they take Naboth outside the city and stone him. Ahab now has his vegetable garden watered in blood.

So many elements in this narrative and those of 2 Samuel 12:1-5 prefigure the trial and death of Christ, of the proto-martyr Stephen and the many martyrs and confessors. Little has changed today.  It is not some fleeting longing for power or greed that we experience but rather an in-your-face reality that has pervaded our world. The devil continues to use these tools effectively to manipulate the world.

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Why I disagree with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is known to make off-the-cuff remarks. Many of these have left the Vatican press office scampering for cover. Recently he apologised for using an anti-gay slur during a meeting with Italian bishops. That comment in itself was illogical when weighed in with the many ‘pastoral’ overtures to the ‘least the last and the lost.’ But what has got my goat this time is his comments on the duration of homilies and more technically the breaking of ‘The Word.’

A few days ago, on June 12th the Holy Father at a general audience said, “Priests should keep their homilies short and speak for a maximum of eight minutes to prevent members of the congregation from nodding off.” If I am right, this is the fourth time he has made such a comment in public.

To my mind, such comments, introspective as they are, are demeaning and demoralising when made in public forums which do not have the faculty to bring about changes on this matter. This statement would be well received if Pope Francis was speaking to a group of clergymen. These comments are nothing short of playing to the gallery; one that leaves a poor taste in the mouth!

The consequences of such comments are scattered all over the media and the internet. Borderline and lapsed Catholics love to add their spice to the unfolding drama. I received a forward on the matter from a lapsed catholic who is also a dear friend. His message was meant to hit hard for he said to me, “You are warned!”

It is no hidden secret that the quality of homilies across the board is poor. But what should be fixed is not the length of the homily but the quality of the content. You don’t walk into a cinema and expect to be told a story in eight minutes, much less break the word of God. To think that the pulpit should compete with ‘Ted Talks’ is playing into the hands of those who want ‘God-talk’ silenced.

Clearly, the Holy Father is troubled by the feedback he gets on lengthy homilies. But there are thousands of excellent preachers of the Word who have held us riveted for hours. We don’t want less of them but rather more. It is not the length of the homily, Holy Father, but the content that you should be talking about. I can listen to Bishop Barron, Fr Michael Payyapilly and the late Archbishop, Fulton Sheen for hours on an end, not speaking of the many preachers of other denominations who hold their congregation captive; hanging on to every word that comes from the preacher’s lips.

The Holy Father sits in a position of authority that can bring about real change rather than cheap chatter.  If he so desires, he could summon the powers that be, to evaluate both seminary formation and how homiletics is taught.

In the Archdiocese of Bombay, we spend years studying philosophy and theology and yet the speech and homiletics class is held just once a week with a seminarian getting to practice his prepared homily perhaps once in three weeks. If the face of the priesthood is the Sunday homily, then should this class not be graded like any subject of theology or philosophy? The fact is that no one has ever ‘failed’ seminary formation (as they would do for other subjects and issues) for a poor homily because homiletics is not taken seriously in our seminaries.

If the Sunday homily is (ironically) the face of the priesthood, then we need reform. We must invite the best from the secular and the religious world to train and form our seminaries. The Redemptorists were known for homiletic content and style because they spent hours training their seminarians on what was their forte. Sadly, few of that generation live on.

Even more, if we admit, as we should, that the overall quality of homilies in the Church is dismal then why do we continue to teach a failed methodology in our seminaries? I can say with certainty that the methodology for teaching homiletics has not changed in more than 25 years and if that be so then why do we insist on using a failed methodology? Which organization in the world, knowing that a product has failed, does not work backwards to fix it?

While I don’t agree with the manner and mind of the Holy Father on this issue, I do believe that it is time that the Bishops of India and seminaries across the board put their minds together to churn out better preachers. If not, we will continue to talk through our hat Sunday after Sunday.

Fr Warner Dsouza

Do leave your comments……

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Stepping into the closet (dealing with irrational fears)

So much of our daily life paralyses us. We are often faced with a to-do list as long as our arm but the thought of what lies beneath and beyond leaves us terrified. Letting lying dogs lie does not work because the nagging feeling of an unaccomplished task never leaves you. Let’s take cupboards, closets and drawers for example.

Many play hide and seek with their closets. Ironically, it’s a one-sided game for it is not the hiding that is the issue, that comes easy! If you care little for arranging your freshly washed laundry then you find yourself chucking everything in the drawer or closet and all you have to do is walk away; it is now hidden. It’s the seeking that gets vexing especially when you have to pull it all out for that one white shirt that you know is whiter than the others.

Then there are those like me. We colour code and arrange our washed laundry and separate the Sunday from the weekday wear. Towels have their place and so does the bed linen; if that’s not enough we have separate sections for single bed sheets and doubles and don’t forget the Christmas sets. No, we are not neurotic we are simply organized!

Yet there comes a moment, when no matter how you choose to live your life; that closet, that cupboard and that drawer must be cleaned out and arranged. I am convinced that clearing and cleaning out closets is a universally disliked activity. It is as if the ‘boodaman’ (an imaginary Indian ghost) is hidden somewhere beneath the bed linen and the curtains. It’s a place you don’t want to go and FOMO does not apply here.

Procrastination does not help.  The reality of daily opening the closet confronts you with that job not done. How easy it would have been if the closet did not have to be opened daily and yet it has to. Why are closets like so many other areas in our life, so hard to deal with?

Today was ‘closet day’ for me and guess what? It was not all that difficult! Fear had paralyzed me into thinking it was insurmountable.  Procrastinating what was just a regular chore had made me sentenced to self-inflicted house arrest.

So much of our lives are like our closets. The task at hand may seem like climbing a mountain but it’s a pleasant walk up a hillock. So here is what I have learnt. Get the bull by its horns. I am sure you won’t find the ‘boodaman’ hidden inside, rather like me, you will have a clean closet. Oh, by the way I also found some cash.

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This recipe is from a very old cook book

Pork Vindalho
1 kg. pork (cubed)
6 onions
15 flakes garlic
2″ piece ginger
20 Kashmiri chillies
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
1″ piece whole turmeric
6 green chillies (slit)
salt, tamarind, vinegar and sugar to taste

Finely slice the onions, 6 garlic flakes and 1″ of ginger.
Grind together the Kashmiri chillies, cumin, peppercorns, turmeric, and the remaining garlic and ginger. Fry the green massala (ie., the onions, garlic and ginger) and when brown add the pork, then the ground massala, and fry for 10 minutes. Next add warm water sufficient to cover the pork. When the water has reduced to half add the green chillies and the sugar, salt, tamarind and vinegar to taste. Simmer on a slow fire till the gravy is thick

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Protect, Guard, Sanctify – 6th Sunday in Easter – John 17:11b-19

Jesus is praying to Father and his disciples are around him. They can not only see his lips move but can hear the words of his prayer loud enough to remember and record them. Clearly, Jesus is concerned for his disciples. He will no longer be in this world, a world ruled by satan. (14:30) Yet clearly, Jesus also tells us, that while satan is the ruler of the world he has no power over Christ. This means that satan has power over us if we are detached from Him, “the vine.” This is why he asked us to abide in him, to be attached to him and emphatically said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

The prayer of Jesus, found in this section of the text, is comforting. Jesus has guarded every one of the flock given to him by the Father; he has lost not one except the one who wanted to be lost. (17:12) While on earth Jesus protected the disciples from satan and he did this in the Father’s name. But now he has to return to the father (verse13) for his hour has come (17:1) and this is the moment satan has been waiting patiently in the wings for.

Twice in this text Jesus proclaims that the disciples “do not belong to the world.” (17:14&16) The disciple lives in this world but he is not of the world. There is no clearer teaching than verse 15 which emphasizes that Christianity does not insulate us from the trials, struggles and temptations of this world. Jesus says, “I am not asking you (Father) to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”

It is in this context that Jesus prays that we are protected, guarded and sanctified in the truth. He wants us to be protected in the name of Jesus; a name given by the Father himself. When we are assailed by the evil one, we simply need to call upon the powerful name of Jesus and satan will be forced to release us.

Jesus prays that we be guarded. As long as Jesus was in the world, he protected us from the evil one but now that he will depart from this world satan will come in full force to attack the disciples. The doors of the disciple’s hearts need to be bolted and shut confident that just as Jesus guarded the disciples from satan so also now, they will be guarded in spite of the attacks to come.

Finally, Jesus prays that the disciples may be sanctified in the truth. To be sanctified (haggios in Greek) is to be set apart. The disciples are to be set apart in their manner of life; in standing for ‘THE TRUTH’ not just ‘a truth’. The word of God (Jesus) is the truth. It is in Jesus’ name that they are set apart and not just a blessing that is given to them as protection.

Today, sign yourself with the triple protection of Christ; that you may be protected, guarded and sanctified.

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