Monday, 17 September 2018

A Ten-Year-Old Teaches Her Auntie To Pray

After a cozy (if noisy) evening watching My Fair Lady with my family, we welcomed my mum back after a week away, and sat down to a late dinner of pork and beans. The conversation was lively, and my littlest niece aged 1.5 was getting louder and more emphatic as she yelled, “Mummy-O! Daddy-O! Nanny-O!” across the room at us. My oldest niece sat by me, and after dinner she curled into my lap. She’s ten years old and long and lanky now, so not all of her fit on me. But that didn’t stop her.

“Do kuru-kuru! Please! I’ll play with your hair in exchange… and give you a massage… and let you read me a story…”

“Oh you’ll LET me, will you?”

Kuru-kuru is a light scratching-stroking motion we do on my nieces’ arms or legs. It has been a comforting and soothing routine from the time they were tiny, often used at bedtime, but we hardly do it now that they are so much older. I started stroking her. After a moment she started smiling to herself, a smile that spilled out of her, like she couldn’t contain it.

“What?” I said. “Why are you smiling?”

“I’m so lucky to have an auntie like you.”

My own heart expanded and glowed.

What does this have to do with prayer? I’ve been attempting to have a personal prayer time since I was 14 years old. As a full-time Catholic volunteer, I am committed to having a daily prayer time. It’s practically a job requirement. I give talks about prayer, telling people “You can’t have a relationship with Jesus if you don’t spend time with Him daily.”

And yet, it’s still a struggle. I don’t run to prayer, and often think of many other things I would rather do. Prayer often feels like a chore, something to tick off a to-do list. I know and love Jesus, so why do I so often feel like avoiding prayer? Well, for one because ‘prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.’ CCC 2725

I think the way I am tempted is to forget what prayer really is. I know enough to realize I need to show up for prayer and be consistent even when I don’t have good feelings or great reflections and insights – that God can still work in me as long as I’m willing to show up. But still once I’m there, I often feel like I need to DO the things, you know, thank Him, ask forgiveness, read Scripture, reflect, write something in my journal, ask for what I need. Not bad things. But it’s like going on a date and going through the motions. ‘According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.’ CCC 2562

Being with my niece helped me remember a retreat I attended some years ago. The speaker talked about the tendency in many Christians to focus on our work, our mission. We talk about being filled up and then go and empty ourselves, and then come back to God to be filled up again like filling petrol at a petrol pump. “But we’re not calling to leave the Father at all! We need to remember our MISSION comes from our IDENTITY and our IDENTITY comes from our RELATIONSHIP with the Father. We need to REMAIN within the embrace of the Father. It’s when we forget the order that we burn out. The order is always RELATIONSHIP-IDENTITY-MISSION. Imagine that the Father’s embrace is a big armchair. We constantly feel like we need to get up and go do stuff on our own. But the job of our community is to push us back into that chair, remind us where we need to be.”

As I turned to prayer that day, I set aside even my ‘prayer to-do-list’. I put on the song ‘Pieces’ from Bethel. And I gazed out of the window at the green outside and the sky beyond. I breathed in the cool air, and I leaned into the Lord. I just allowed Him to hold me. I let go of the burdens I was clinging to. I let the stress I wasn’t even aware of drain from my body. And I smiled up at Him. I felt so loved, so safe.

Why is prayer such a chore? Because I keep forgetting that it just means resting in the Father’s embrace, smiling up at Him and allowing Him to love me. It took my niece gazing up at me the same way to remind me yet again that it all comes back to love. That doesn’t mean prayer is easy. It’s still a battle. ‘Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort.’ CCC 2725

But the battle isn’t to achieve the most amazing prayer time, or to somehow make myself better at prayer. Instead the battle is to place myself in the arms of the Father, and remain there.

Related Reading 

To Be Someone's Darling 

The Time I Went on a Five Day Silent Retreat 

My Experiences With Anxiety and Peace

Monday, 10 September 2018

How I Know I’m Growing Old Edition 5ish

As you all know, I LOVE writing about how old I am. I wrote about it here, here and even here. Oh wait, here too.

My Old People Shoes: I undertook the scary task some months ago of going shoe-shopping. I was looking for some ‘normal’ slip-ons to take the place of my black chappals that I pretty much live in, just in case I actually needed to go somewhere where actual shoes were required when I went on my visit to the US. To my surprise, I found a pair I actually liked, and were within my budget, and hadn’t exceeded my two hour shopping trip exhaustion limit. I was quite proud of myself and wore the shoes several times.

One morning I was at the beauty salon (are they still called that?) feeling quite put together with my new shoes, but trying to avoid awkward small-talk (as INTJs do), when an old lady in her 70s came up to me. Then she said the words any woman in her 30s would dread: “Where did you get your shoes? I’ve been searching all over for this exact type!” Why yes, I had picked out the exact style that old ladies love to wear.

My Fashion Style: I had been feeling like I needed something easy but artistic to add to my hair. “How about a flower?” I thought. We were at a mall, and I looked at a few, but they mostly seemed childish and overpriced. I went home, but my sister kept an eye out for one, and soon sent me a picture of a couple of options. I liked the red rose, so she bought that one for me. I wore it one day to school, and felt pretty happy with myself.

We went on a trip to Vasai last weekend for a retreat, and I decided to take my rose along, just in case the flower-wearing mood struck me. I didn’t wear it to Adoration because it made me a little self-conscious, but wore it to the celebratory Lord’s Day dinner. I looked at the other fashionable younger women though, and none of them seemed to be wearing flowers. “Hmm, maybe I’m just artistic but not fashionable.” The next day at Mass at a little church the truth was revealed to me. The roses WERE in fashion – I saw the EXACT rose I was wearing… in the hair of multiple authentic Maharashtrian middle-aged aunties wearing sarees as they worshipped.

My References to ‘Young People’: When I started as a Catholic full-timer in India, I remember laughing with my team at priests constantly talking about ‘youngsters’. I stopped laughing recently when I started noticing how often the term ‘young people’ made it into my conversation… and how I usually was NOT including myself in that category.

My Solidarity with My Dad’s Road Rage: My dad and I were riding to meet my family for lunch. We were on my Activa, and as our light turned green, we rode forward with the rest of the flow of traffic. Into this law-abiding group of citizens barreled a rickshaw cutting a red light and blocking us. What I usually do in such circumstances is dodge the offender and shoot him or her a dirty look. But this was my dad. What HE did was bellow, “WHOOAAA!!!!!!” at the rickshaw driver. In previous years, I world have been mortified. Instead I heartily approved and even muttered, “Blinkin’ idiot,” as we passed. I have become my dad.

My Intolerance of Any Noises in the Night: “Do they have any idea what time it is?” “Are they not aware that there are people sleeping?” “Grumble grumble this is ridiculous - so what if they’re celebrating, do we all have to suffer because they are happy?”

My Love for The Seekers: So if you don’t know The Seekers, this won’t make as much of an impression. Let me turn to Wikipedia to describe what I mean. Yes, The Seekers are an Australian folk-influenced pop quartet from the sixties. So you will often see me cooking and singing along to ‘Hey there, Georgy Girl’ and ‘A World of Our Own’. My mum used to listen to this band (when she was pregnant with me which apparently explains everything), and often sings their songs too, so I guess I’m becoming my mum too.

People Guessing I’m Older Than I Am: I’ve been so confident about my youthful looks that I’m always a little cocky about telling people I’m ‘REALLY OLD’ and still having them guess that I’m in my mid-2os. Well, that back-fired recently when a couple of new friends took me at my word, and guessed that I was either 35 or 37. Got a good helping of humility (or do I mean humiliation) there.

In conclusion, I am 32. But really 40 isn’t THAT far away, so I’m just trying to get mentally prepared for that by calling myself old 8 years in advance. (Sorry you aged 40 year olds.)

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Lost Art of Listening

I have found something that most people I know have in common - we are all terrible at listening. It is too strong a temptation to think the conversation is all about us.

Person 1: My cat died.

Person 2: I don't have a cat.

My sister and I recognized this tendency in ourselves years ago, so every now and again, when we noticed each other doing it, we would say meaningfully, "I don't have a cat."

How often have I asked a question and completely missed the answer because I was busy following my own train of thought?

How often have I only caught the beginning of the answer, and then switched off as I began to construct my rebuttal or my own related funny story?

How often have I breathlessly waited for the other person to pause so I can jump in with MY much funnier and more interesting take on the subject?

Sometimes I think of a conversation as a game of catch or throwball (my school's version of volleyball). It's supposed to go back and forth. But too often I or the other person grab the ball and start running in the opposite direction. Even though I know my tendency to do this, I still often make the same mistakes. However I am trying, and am a little better than I used to be.

Here are a few things I found helpful-

1. Echo and ask follow up questions: Obviously don't just repeat back the exact thing the other person just said, but if you're having a hard time focussing, try to pick up SOMETHING the other person said, and check that's what they were saying. "So you are finding your job stressful?" And then follow up, "Do you think it's because of the timings? Or are there other factors?"

2. Watch people's faces: It's easy to tell when I've been hogging the conversation ball, because people stop responding, start getting a blank look on their faces, and stop saying anything.

3. Look out for open mouths: Sometimes people want to say something but they won't grab the ball as aggressively as others. They open their mouth to say something, but don't follow up if someone else keeps talking. So when I see that, whether it's in a one-on-one conversation or a group conversation, I need to stop and say, "You were about to say something?"

4. Consciously choose to give up a story: Sometimes I have the best story ever. And I just KNOW it's going to get a laugh. Or I have a great, original thought that would be a wonderful addition to the conversation. And I just feel like I MUST get it in one way or another. But you know what? I really don't need to. My stories and opinions are really not AS amazing as I think they are. (And if I MUST share them, I can always blog 😄)

5. Give up the addictive need to be right: Not everything has to turn into a debate. Listen to understand, not to make a point. It's easy to tell at the end of a conversation whether it was fruitful or frustrating.

6. Remember that listening is love: What a simple way to make people feel loved. When I think of people who have really listened to me, been genuinely interested in my life, and asked good questions, I remember feeling loved.

7. Humbly admit when you fail: I have had to often apologize for talking too much. Or say, "I'm so sorry but I didn't catch your name." Or "I know I should know this by now and you've probably told me, but what is it you do again?"

8. Try again: I don't need to beat myself up every time I fail. I'm not a horrible person, I just have a weakness which I'm working on.

I've seen how each time I make a little effort to grow in this area, it blesses someone, opens up a space for REAL communication, and fellowship. Everyone needs to be heard. But very few are really listening.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

How Not To React to the Sex Abuse Scandal in the Church

If you follow American Catholic media at all, and even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard some shocking news in the past few weeks – specifically revelations in a Pennsylvania grand jury report about decades of abuse and cover-up by predator priests and church official as well as credible sex abuse allegations against now-ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Euggh. How do we even react to this news? Here are some responses Catholics are tempted to make-

“It’s all lies made up to smear the Church.” 

 Um, no. Credible news sources (including respected Catholic news agencies) have reported all this, Just because you don’t like the news doesn’t make it fake news.

“I knew it. All priests and bishops are perverts or hypocrites. I never trusted them anyway” 

NOT ALL PRIESTS. There are a GREAT many holy, humble, sacrificial priests who don’t make the news, but lovingly serve the people entrusted to their care. Most of us Catholics know several priests like that. They are as deeply disgusted and shocked by the news they are hearing.

“The Catholic Church is a deeply corrupt institution.” 

 Many of us have not understood that the Church operates on two levels – the hierarchical and visible structure, and the spiritual communion of all those who are believers in Christ and therefore the Body of Christ. The plan and hope and idea was that those two levels were to be beautifully integrated. The hierarchy should have been visible representatives of Christ the Good Shepherd, lovingly guarding and guiding His sheep. Alas, many who should have been shepherds have indeed been corrupted by power, by lust, by ego, by sin, and become the enemies of both Christ and His sheep. And yet the CHURCH is still the Body of Christ. And so I can criticize and demand reform in the hierarchical structures of the Church, and yet continue to love the CHURCH, the body of Christ of which I am a part.

 “I cannot bring myself to go to Mass after hearing this news.” 

It is understandable that people who have been traumatized by priests might find it very hard to return to the Church. We are not called to judge them. BUT, if you are reading this, don’t let sinners and abusers keep you away from Christ, who is present in the Eucharist. The sacraments are priest-proof.

 "I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the 'scandals', both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reason: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to his face." JRR Tolkien 

“There is sin everywhere in the world, and abusers in every institution and denomination. Why are we making this such a big deal?” 

 Because this IS a big deal! How much more evil it is for those who are standing ‘in persona Christi’ to rape, to molest, to abuse, to take advantage of the trust and respect given to them by the little, innocent ones. It makes me sick. And even worse are those who knew and covered it up, and enabled them to continue. And if we act like it’s not a big deal, we are complicit too because we are denying justice to those who are crying out to be heard, and we are enabling an environment where such things can continue.

“Must we focus on the negative? There are so many good things happening in the world.” 

Saint Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” We cannot hope for or work for change if we cannot admit that there is a serious problem. Not only do we need anger and courage, we need to be willing to ‘weep with those who weep’ instead of shushing them as they have been shushed too many times before. If one part of the Church is hurting, the whole Church is hurting. If there is poison in one part, it will affect the whole.

“This is all because of the liberals/the gay priests/the conservatives/etc.” 

Don’t make this about your pet issue. This is a bipartisan issue, and we need to approach it together. Whether you are right wing or left wing, if you are against abuse and for accountability, then we can work together to eradicate it from the Church. All priests who have SSA are not abusers. Many are chaste and sacrificially serving the Church. Don’t demonize everyone. The people to blame are the people who have been documented to have committed crimes.

“We are all sinners. Who are we to judge?” 

 No. When you hear about a rapist, the correct response is not 'we are all responsible in some way'. That is practically victim-blaming. The one who is to blame is the perpetrator and anyone who covered it up, or could have done something and didn’t. If you know about abuse within the Church and are covering it up, then yes, you are to blame. The point isn’t judgment or condemnation, but justice, fighting for and speaking up for the oppressed and victimized. You can’t stop crime by calling everyone a criminal. Yes, we are all sinners, but we have not all raped, molested or covered up abuse.
"How could a good God allow this? Either He doesn't care enough or He is not powerful enough or He doesn't exist." 

God knew. God cares. He cared enough to allow His Son to die on a bloody Cross to share in the ugliness and the pain of those that suffered. God is on the side of the oppressed. God cares about justice. Every abuser will have to face Him one day. The tears of every one who has been abused will be wiped away one day. He promises that one day EVERYTHING that is wrong will be made right. I don't know why not yet. But I know He cares.

“I can’t believe Pope Francis would cover up abuse/ I KNEW Pope Francis was complicit!” 

So far, one Papal Nuncio has accused Pope Francis and Pope Benedict of knowing about ex-Cardinal McCarrick. I SINCERELY hope he is lying. And yet, I am waiting for proof one way or another. I will not defend or accuse anyone without proof to substantiate his claims. It's going to come out sooner or later. But I will not let my previous loyalties or dislike of anyone influence me either. 

“What’s the point of talking and writing about it if we can’t do anything about it?” 

But we CAN do something about it! We can fast, pray and demand accountability. We can beg God to bring renewal to our unholy and yet holy Church. We can commit to speaking up for the voiceless, in spite of what it costs us. We CANNOT care more about our good name or the good name of the Church than we care about the protection of the innocent. Like the movie Monsoon Wedding, where Naseeruddin Shah's character saying as he throws out a beloved trusted male family member who turns out to have molested his niece, "I will protect my family even against myself."  We cannot compromise or be hypocrites. We can ask God to raise up prophets and saints, and we need to be willing to be the ones He calls on. We need more like Saint Catherine and Saint Francis. And we need to be the change we want to see. 

We also need to take up our call as laity to see ourselves as the Church as much as priests are the Church. We need to continue the work of Christ in the world whether or not we have a holy and humble hierarchy working with us. Be a leader. Be a saint. Be a prophet. Good will prevail.

"This is an American problem." 

 I'm very afraid that in India where there is even more fear of and unquestioning obedience to authority, fear of shame and scandal, and a tendency to treat priests like they are gods, that we have an environment very conducive to abuse and cover-up. I am both afraid of when it's all going to come out, but in a way, also hopeful that it will happen. It will be disgraceful and humiliating, but if that's what it takes to get justice for the silent victims, and to begin change in the way we do things, then let it be so. Already a few stories have started coming out, and I have heard whispers of others. Have mercy on us, Lord. Let's be prepared.

There is so much more to say about this. But let us start by praying, fasting and begging God for renewal.

Recommended Reading 

Sexual Abuse, Sackcloth, and Ashes: Meeting Scandal With Acts Of Reparation 

Wounded by Silence

Fr. Mike Schmitz on the Sex Abuse Scandal [video]

UPDATED: Bishop Robert just posted this video. As usual, he is a voice of reason and wisdom.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

What’s Wrong with Catholic Youth Groups

Pope Saint John Paul II long before he was a pope (lying down, third from left), during a camping and hiking trip with some of his students from the Catholic University 

I know, I know, Sue being critical about yet another aspect of her life and the Church. But I tear down only to build up! We can’t change if we think we’re doing fine the way we are.

First of all, here are some observations about most Catholic youth groups I’ve come across or been involved with-

1. Most youth group members disappear from anything Church-related once they start working or get married. Many eventually identify as agnostic or atheist.

2. Most think of prayer and spiritual activities as boring and to be avoided. You will rarely see a youth group member at a weekday Mass or in the Adoration chapel.

3. The lifestyle of most youth group members doesn’t seem particularly different from their non-Christian peers – in the way they spend their leisure time and resources, in their mode of dressing or relationships, in their consumption of media, in their abuse of alcohol, and most likely in their sins.

4. If you were to ask most youth group members what they believe and why, you are quite likely to find either a shallow pluralistic ‘let’s all get along’ perspective which has little to do with Jesus or the teachings of His Church, or a blind faith and loyalty to cultural religious traditions without a strong reason or understanding of the ‘why’.

5. Almost no vocations to the priesthood, religious or missionary life are coming out of our Catholic youth groups.

So what’s going on? What is wrong with Catholic youth groups? What are we missing? And how can we change?

1. I think the biggest problem is that we have the wrong goal. We’re running hard, but in the wrong direction. It seems as if the goal of youth groups is just to get young Catholic ‘involved in the parish’. They are seen as a resource, a labour force to help out with various activities of the parish, or to organize events and activities, which look good in a report at the end of the year. This is not just a youth group problem. I think it’s a general Catholic parish problem - our highest goal is to have ‘active parishioners’. Unfortunately you can have swarms of active parishioners, and active, energetic youth members, and you can still have people who do not reflect Christ in their lives.

Another false goal I have heard is – “We are looking at the all-round development of the youth – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. So we have activities and events and workshops to help with all these issues. Prayer is not the only thing we do.” How is a Catholic youth group different from some Rotary club or generic secular group? Just that we say a prayer at the beginning, if that?

2. We think of youth groups in terms of a yearly schedule of activities and events. This is such a natural default position. And of course, a schedule is necessary. Events have to be planned beforehand. But the problem comes in when the event and schedule becomes the focus, the inflexible god before which everyone must bow. Or the events that we do one year are by default what we do every year, without asking if they are fulfilling the main aim of the youth group. We often have the wrong focus.

3. Youth group is limited to a weekly meeting. The seminarian or priest usually meets with a youth group once a week. Of course you have to have regular meetings. But meeting for a couple of hours once a week is not going to bring lasting change or deeper formation to young people.

So what IS the goal of a Catholic youth group? What SHOULD our focus be? And how can we achieve that goal? The primary goal of a Catholic youth group should be the aim of every Catholic group, organization, community and parish – TO FORM DISCIPLES.

But of course different people have different ideas of what a disciple is, so let’s be more specific.

We should be forming young people to know Christ in an intimate, personal way, and to re-orient their lives so that they reflect HIS truth, love and priorities. 

What would young disciples look like?

  • Their lives would shine with the joy of Christ, because they have found the One who loves them fully. 
  • They would be praying every day, would jump at the chance to spend time with Jesus in the chapel, and often show up to daily Mass. 
  • They would be familiar with the Word of God, and read it every day. 
  • They would be quick to serve the poor, and take the initiative in coming up with new ways to do so. 
  • They would be able to share how Jesus has been changing their lives, and why they believe what they believe. 
  • They would be eager to share Jesus with those who don’t know Him, and they would be open and welcoming to people who are different from them. 
  • They would engage their intellect too in understanding how Jesus speaks through the Church, and would be willing to research and explain these truths to those who question them. 
  • They would actively seek God’s will for their vocations, careers and life partners, rather than going with the flow. 
  • They would take their struggles with sin to the Lord and frequent the sacrament of Confession.

How many of us can say that about the youth we know from our youth groups? Ah, you say, Sue, you are living in a fantasy world. Youth are youth, and you have overly high expectations. Youth are always shallow, pleasure-oriented and the best we can hope is that they show up, ‘get involved’, and then continue to be ‘active parishioners’ later in life, once they’ve had their fun.

Nonsense! Pope John Paul II believed in young people and so do I!
“Dear young people, it is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.”
“There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice” 
Also, I KNOW many young people who ARE disciples. However, most of them have are not the product of parish youth groups, they received their formation in other places. Most of our young people only receive their formation in the parish youth group.

So. What are some practical ways to form disciples in our youth groups?

1. Leaders must be disciples: The priest or seminarian leading the youth group need to be disciples themselves first. Not just social workers, inspirational speakers, ‘one of the gang’, or an authority figure. Only disciples can form disciples. If you love JESUS (not just the Church or being a good person), and are willing to speak of your friendship with Him, about what He said to you in your personal prayer time, how He has been challenging and changing you, that is the most powerful way to form others. "There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him." Pope Benedict XVI And of course, LOVE and PRAY FOR your young people by name.

2. Lay youth ministers: We need to be willing to form and release lay youth ministers and lay core teams. Not all priests are able to relate well with youth. Not all seminarians are able to stay with a youth group for more than a year, or spend time with the youth apart from the weekly meeting. A lay youth minister is more than a youth group president or an assistant for the seminarian or priest, but a leader in his or her own right, working in cooperation and communication with the priest or seminarian. Of course, the youth minister and lay teams MUST be disciples, or you’re creating more problems than you solve.

3. Relationships over events: Most of discipleship happens in one on one relationships. Every youth should have someone from the core team of disciples checking in on them, taking them out for chai and asking about their life at least once a month. This is how FOCUS functions in US college campuses, and I know of many who have come to know Christ through these relationships. When I was 15, I belonged to a small group from the lay Catholic community my family belonged to, and my on on one conversations with my leader (a single woman in her 30s) helped me process many of my decisions in the light of Christ and affected my choices once I went to college.

4. Small groups and bible studies: Apart from the larger youth group meetings, young people need to be divided into groups of 4-6 (even seven can become unwieldy) who can meet in each other’s homes and keep in more regular contact with each other at least every couple of weeks. They are guys'and girls' groups who they know they can turn to when they’re struggling, and if they need help or prayers (yay Whatsapp groups). Usually they won’t get that in a larger group setting. It’s difficult for everyone to care for everyone without cliques forming, or people slipping between the cracks. What can they do when they meet? Read the bible together, and share what God is saying to them. Share what’s going on in their lives, and pray for each other. So simple, and yet so fruitful.

5. Encounter retreats: The most important event that every youth group should have every year is a live-in retreat with a chance for every youth to hear the message of Jesus’ personal love, and His invitation to turn away from sin and live with Him and for Him. You could invite a group (like mine ;-)) to lead the retreat, or you could take them to Divine Retreat Center, or you could organize it yourself and invite speakers or you could send them to a retreat organized by another group. This is where we need to get rid of rivalry and suspicion, and come together to use our gifts for each other. If they have never had a chance to have a personal encounter, everything else is superfluous.

6. Evangelization and service to the poor: After they have had their encounter, invite the youth to think of ways they can bring this same love to others. Let them take the initiative, and support them and guide them. I’ve seen all sorts of cool outreaches, from young people taking the streets handing out packed meals to beggars and talking and praying with them, to handing out coffee and saying ‘Jesus loves you’ to random passersby on Main Street, to running summer clubs for kids from the slum, to organizing retreats themselves, to visiting and serving with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. The key is that it should be THEIR project, not just something we are forcing them to do, or micromanaging.

7. Regular Adoration: One of the most-attended monthly events a group I belonged to had was just an hour-long visit to an Adoration chapel. Young professionals would flock to it. Silence and time with the Lord is something so beautiful, and so intimate, but sometimes we need someone to organize it or invite us into it. It could be even more beautiful if it started with some reverent songs of worship (Wonder by Bethel, Since Your Love, O Come to the Altar, Jesus (Holy and Anointed One)) but was followed by just silent prayer. If you want to make disciples, you need to give them some Spiritual Radiation Therapy with the Son.

8. Solid talks at the weekly meeting: We need to give our young people solid food if we want them to grow into spiritual maturity. That means youth group meetings can’t just be used for practises, planning and organization of parish events. What kind of solid talks? Talks that are relevant to their lives – how to deal with conflict in a Christ-like way, how to resist temptation, how to deal with attraction, when and how to start a relationship, how to discern God’s will, how to pray, spiritual warfare, Theology of the Body. Use the bible, church teaching, and the wisdom of the saints. Introduce them to the YouCat and the Catechism. Invite solid speakers. Make sure there is time for discussion groups and QnA.

9. Personal prayer, Scripture reading and Confession: Emphasize the importance of daily personal prayer and Scripture reading, and check in on them regularly about how they are doing. Share with them testimonies of those who experienced grace through Confession and encourage them to go monthly. Let them know a regular time when the priest is available.

10. Praise and Worship: Start every meeting with a time of praise and worship. It doesn’t have to be long – just 15 minutes, but it can focus their attention on the Lord. Encourage the guitarists of the group to take the lead. Disclaimer- ACTION SONGS are NOT praise and worship.

11. Respect their freedom: Don’t pressure youth into taking more responsibility than they’re ready for. That just leaves them with a resentful heart. If people are feeling overloaded, or they have a lot of pressure from college, home or work, listen to them, and let them step back for a while. Events are not more important than people. Also, if youth group is a place of joy and growth, you won’t have to force youth to attend. They’ll come. Don't baby, bully, boss or manipulate them. Treat them as equals with a voice. Propose, do not impose. Also, go house to house and invite youth who do not attend for an event (they're more likely to come for an outreach event where they get to serve).

12. Have fun: Putting Christ at the center of everything doesn’t mean signing up for a boring life. On the contrary, when we know the Lord and use our energy and heart to love and serve Him, it transforms our fun times too. Board game nights, movie nights, dancing, football matches, karaoke – encourage and participate in healthy and fun activities. Give them an alternative to clubs and expensive restaurants.

Young people are lonely. They are searching for meaning and something authentic in a world of fakes. They do not need just a social club. They desire something more. They are capable of so much more. "Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure." Let's invite them into that adventure.

So, what are you waiting for? Approach your parish priest and ask him if you can help with the youth group. Or if he is unwilling, just start doing these things with the youth you know. If you need help with getting some of these started, my group can help! Let me know. Let’s pray for true renewal in the Church starting with our young people.

Monday, 23 July 2018

The Questions You Always Had about Christian Women’s Households

Many people in India are shocked to hear that I do not live with my parents even though we live in the same city. I live in a flat with three other women (at the moment, it changes), down the road from the school at which my team serves. There are usually amazed questions that we have all faced from people who think only college students would choose a life like that, and can’t imagine what our life looks like. So here you go, some common questions (plus some we made up) and our honest answers.

So… you cook? 

Amazing at it may seem, I am quite capable as a 32 year old woman who has lived away from home for most of the past eight years, of feeding myself and others with REAL food. I can make bhajis and chapatis, rice and dal, and plenty of other yummy dishes too. Somehow people equate being unmarried with being helpless. MY mum was not just cooking for but also raising four young children when she was 32 (the youngest arrived when she was 33). Each of the women in our household take turns to cook. But of course, we do NOT live the life of a typical Indian wife and mom – we do not cook every day. We schedule cooking every other day, and are quite happy to eat leftovers, and do not demand or expect fresh chapatis at every meal.

Perfectly round chapatis are not usually found in our home. Probably why we're still single.

Every now and again we ‘scrounge’ (as I like to refer to it) when there’s no regular food left. I consider hummus with chips a great in-between meal. Or hummus sandwiches. Or hummus with veggies. (We make GREAT hummus.)

And who cleans? 

Once again, we are adult women quite capable of cleaning our own home. I don’t at all judge those who hire a cleaning lady, especially when they have kids or very demanding jobs. But we don’t need to do that, and take pride in being able to work with our hands. Funny story, when I first moved away from home, I lived with an American volunteer who was shocked that I had a maid growing up. “What does Sue have in common with a princess?” she asked, and then supplied the answer- “She has never cleaned a toilet.” Well, that’s changed. We have a weekly chore chart, and while our house is not always pristine, and we do have messy days, we manage to keep it fairly clean.

Do y’all fight? 

Not really. One of the women I live with is my sister, so we occasionally have disagreements that we talk out. But the beauty of being not very young adults is that we’ve learned to extend grace to each other, not make a big deal about small stuff, and assume the best about each other.

What is the best thing about living in household? 

I read some American Catholic single writing about how hard it is to be unmarried – no one to cook for, to come back home to. I don’t know why people assume marriage is the only way to have community. I love that we have people to do stuff for. If I was alone, I probably wouldn’t cook at all, or follow any kind of schedule, and would probably get pretty depressed. I love that I always have someone to talk to about my day (and my dreams), to go to Mass with, to laugh with and to pray with. It's great for accountability and growth in discipline.

Actually one of my favourite moments each day is at about 9 pm when we gather in our living room to pray the Divine Office and sing the Salve Regina at the end. It is a quiet and peace-filled way to end each day.

I asked my household sisters what their answers would be and they said –

The discipline of our life together, combined with freedom. We follow a common schedule, but with large chunks of time to do our own personal tasks. It’s not like being at home a parent telling you what to do, we choose it freely.

The freedom and lack of guilt or blame – even if we occasionally forget our chores, no one makes a big deal about it, but just reminds us.

The conversations – every night we eat dinner together and just chat about everything.

What’s the hardest thing about living in household? 

For me, it’s balancing the needs of the introverts with the extroverts. I am far more aware in household how an extreme on either side can hurt the other members. Even though I am often a chatterbox, I often withdraw into my own world, with my phone or laptop or book. I can do that for hours at a time. But then I realize I haven’t even asked my household sisters how their day has been, and I wonder if they are secretly feeling isolated or hurt by me. At the same time, I can’t do constant long conversations, because I start feeling frustrated or exhausted, and I know other introverts feel the same way. So that’s sometime hard.

For the others- Not having a water heater (aka geyser) or a washing machine. Technically we could buy them, but this is a temporary home, and we try to live simply, or make do, so we are not planning to do so.

For our newest member who has never lived away from home, it is just feeling a little homesick, and not yet finding her comfort zone.

What advice would you give a group of women (or men) who were planning to set up their own Christian household? 

Do it! It is totally worth it! If you are planning to be married some day, this is a great preparation for married life. You have to adjust, and face your own selfishness and temptation to blame and be resentful. But if you’re willing to learn these lessons of love, how beautiful the resulting fellowship is! And if you're probably not getting married, it's a great opportunity to build a happy home.

My household sisters’ advice –

Learn how to do conflict resolution before you move into a household. Most Indians don’t talk directly about issues, but we have to learn how to do it. We need to unlearn unhealthy habits of communication like being passive-aggressive, or using anger or accusation as a weapon, or avoiding issues.

Be clear about expectations and jointly decide beforehand what your schedule and goals are. When people do make mistakes, do not accuse or make them feel guilty, but gently remind one another about the decisions made.

Get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, needs and schedules, so that no one treads on each other’s toes, and each person has the space that they need.

And bonus question that someone actually asked us – what is one old person thing that you all do? 

Well, we’re all deaf. We constantly have conversations that go –


“What? Are you talking to yourself or to me?”

“What did you say? What did she say?”

 “She said she doesn’t like mumblemumblemumble.”

“She doesn’t like WHAT?”


“Oh, never mind.”

Well, either we’re all deaf, or we all mumble. Quite possibly both.

Us soon.

The other old person thing that we do is Zumba. Or rather Refitrev. You might say that’s a young people thing. But that’s the point, we look at those videos and try to follow along and start feeling our age.

“Why are they all so skinny and chirpy?” (about the dance instructors)

“No, we don’t want to be your friend. We have enough friends.” (When the dance instructors try to have intimate chats with us at the beginning of the videos.)

Sorry, white women, you don't have a monopoly on this.

“How do they even do that step? I’m too old for this.”

“They’re moving too fast! And there are too many steps. How do they expect us to remember all these steps?”

“Never mind, just keep moving your body awkwardly, the point is to be healthy not be expert dancers.”

“I can do THAT! Thank God the windows are closed anyway.”

“How long has it been? I’m exhausted. Twenty minutes? Yup, I’m done.”

 And that, my friends, is a Christian Women's Household.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Great Indian Road Race

Like most young (I use the term loosely) middle class adults in big Indian cities, I spend a lot of time zooming around the streets on my two-wheeler (aka moped by non-Indians). I have often found myself thinking how well Indian roads would lend themselves to an excellent video game. Now granted I’m not an expert on video games, but I remember riding a motorcycle on Road Rash and kicking my competitors. Just empty roads and speeding along them. How much more exciting and challenging Indian roads are! So for all you game-makers out there, here’s my best shot, and I expect a chunk of the profits.

Level 1: Pedestrian 

This is the underdog of the streets, but we must all start here. As the Pedestrian, you must dodge bikes, cars, buses, and excrement (human and animal) while trying to make it from Point A to Point B. You can choose between the streets or the sidewalk. You’d think the sidewalk would be the better choice, but you would find your way blocked by shop displays, parked cars, sleeping animals and drunk men. If you choose the street, you must face blaring horns, while darting across and swivelling your head back and forth to avoid oncoming traffic who ignore the 3 second pedestrian crossing light. If you miss the light (which you will), you must choose the right emoji to gain the sympathy of passing vehicles long enough for them to slow down and let you pass. You must perform tricky manoeuvres (carefully-used umbrella, to avoid the puddles splashed by rude cars during the monsoons. You get bonus points for not using your Curse Button. If you make it to your destination without dying and with relatively clean clothing, you can pass on to the next level…

Level 2: The Cyclist 

The Cyclist has the advantage of speed (at least over the Pedestrian), but cannot control that speed as well. This can lead to an early demise while trying to cross roads. You as the Cyclist are equally prone to mud splashes, perhaps even more so as your cycle kicks up water. You may be excited by specially designated cycle tracks, but you still have to dodge motorcyclists who THINK it’s a MOTORcycle track, not to mention rickshaws with a slightly unrealistic perspective of their size. You also have to juggle a lunch bag on your handle bars, and occasionally a loved one on the back of your cycle. If you make it to the finish line, you move to…

Level 3: The Biker 

The bikers have the power to zoom, but fear not, it won’t be too boringly easy. Even though you CAN go up to 70 km per hour, you never have the opportunity to because of the crowded streets. Instead of speed, you get to use your dodging, overtaking and slipping through cracks skills. For fun, sweet little puppies will shoot out in the middle of the road, and you must swerve without hitting anyone OR killing the puppy.

Cows chilling out in the middle of the road occasionally transform into frisky running cows being chased by a dog. You must have the balance in case you get caught in the middle of uneven slabs of road concrete, and the good judgment to know where a puddle is not just a puddle but a pothole. Traffic lights must be obeyed, but very cautiously so as not to get rear-ended by a less rule-abiding bus. Bonus points for peer-pressuring other traffic into stopping at lights, slowing down so pedestrians can cross, and not getting splashed by cars. Points will be subtracted if you speed up to prevent Pedestrians from being able to cross the road. Your focus on reaching your destination may be taken away by a Road Accident - all bikers MUST pull over to view the accident, join in the argument or just stare. If you get through this, you will reach…

Level 4: Rickshaw Driver 

You have the super-skill of being able to rotate 180 degrees without needing to back up at all. However you may get delayed by irate passengers who flag you down and then refuse your services just because you ask for an extra fifty rupees for return fare. Also, if you catch sight of an Ola or Uber, all rickshaws MUST stop to get into an argument with their drivers. Even if you skip all these potential hazards, you must screech to a grinding halt if the Rickshaw Union calls a strike. Failure to comply can result in loss of life.

Level 5: Car 

Your aim is to not only make it safely to the destination but also avoid any scratches to your brand-new car named ‘Mother’s Blessing’. You get points subtracted for using your Curse Button on pedestrians or cyclists from the comfort of your air-conditioned bubble. You must try not to hit bikes who have sudden changes of mind about their preferred lanes, while also trying to overtake buses stuck on the wrong side of the road, without anyone else hitting you. You can lose your life by getting in an accident with a Sumo full of men in dark glasses, and foolishly getting out of your car to argue with them.

Level 6: Bus 

This is the highest level and takes the greatest amount of expertise. You will have the bulk but must have the corresponding agility of a very large man tiptoeing through the narrow aisles of an overstocked glassware shop (yes, my own take of a bull in a china store). You have the ability to kill, but not the license to do so. You are also on a tighter time schedule than all the other levels. Although you may think your large and threatening size prevents you from losing your life, this is in fact not true, as you will find when you hit a hapless pedestrian attempting to cross the road, and a violent mob materializes out of nowhere holding iron rods and hockey sticks. Your only option is to take to your heels and finish the rest of the race on foot.

Flash Monsoon Round for All Levels 

The skies open and the rains come down causing all traffic lights to go off, instant traffic jams, immediate increase in the volume and duration of blaring horns, and angry, wet and muddy people, vehicles and dogs to swarm the roads. Each level must improvise to survive. The Curse Button will be disabled for this round for fear of being over-used.

Cheat Code: Call on your guardian angel. Only one provided per player. Guardian angels give advice and can help in sticky situations. However if you ignore the advice of your guardian angel, there are no guarantees for whether or not he will show up again.

Okay, this game is just waiting to be created. While we wait, let’s go for a spin on the streets for a little practise. Hope to see you all again on this side of heaven.

P.S. If not a video game, this could also be offered in real life to tourists as a Death-Defying Adventure Sport on the same level as bungee- jumping and paragliding, but without the safety features and more local colour.