Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Ten Catholic Trivia Questions Most Indian Catholics Will Get Wrong

I thought I'd try something new at the blog this week - a QUIZ! Who doesn't love quizzes?

Try it out and watch this space for the follow up on all the answers. Let me know in Facebook or blog comments how much you scored!

(The quiz should appear below, wait for a few seconds if you don't see it. If you still don't see it, click on this link.)

For clarity on some of the answers, read the following posts"

Part 1 - Parents and Children 

Part 2 - Fasting

Part 3 - Non-Christians in Heaven

Monday, 22 April 2019

If Jesus Really Rose from the Dead...

Easter has begun! This of course means that our forty days of fasting and discipline are finally over and we can gorge ourselves on chocolate and junk food and movies and go back to being lazy slobs! Our reward for denying ourselves is indulging ourselves!

You think I'm being sarcastic but you know in your heart I am not really kidding. That's pretty much how we approach Easter - as no-longer-Lent, as Sherry Weddell put it in a recent post on her Forming Intentional Disciples Forum.

But Easter has got to be more than that. This is the biggest feast of the Christian Church. Even bigger than than the birth of God as a baby is the final accomplishment of everything that Baby came to do.

And what did He do? He broke the bonds of death, He spoke the final word, He won the ultimate victory in the great cosmic battle between good and evil. Picture every superhero movie you ever watched, and think of the final showdown between the hero and the villain... this is SO much bigger.

But what does this mean for you and for me today, and in the days to come?


For freedom Christ has set us free, therefore stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Gal 5:1

We were made to be free, and we are freest and happiest when we are living as we ought, with clean consciences, and days filled with prayer, love and service. Don't fall back into slavery of seeking happiness in fleeting sensory pleasures. Lent wasn't supposed to be a 'sad' time, but a time to realign our hearts to the truth, and re-order our desires so we seek God first and most.

The Resurrection means you have a choice! You don't HAVE to be a slave to sin. You don't HAVE to be anxious and sad and angry or selfish all the time. The door of the prison cell is open - step out and live as a son or daughter of God.


I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1:19-20

"Have you heard of Spiderman? You know he was just a normal boy named Peter Parker who had glasses and wasn't very different from everyone else. But then he became Spiderman! And  now he can shoot webs and he has amazing vision and he can climb walls. How did that happen?"

"A spider bit him!" shout my twelve year olds at Jesus Club.

"Yes! And we also on our own are just normal human beings. We are lazy and selfish and impatient and negative. But we have our own radioactive spider - the HOLY SPIRIT!" (Theologians, please don't kill me.) "On our own, we can't do much. But with the Holy Spirit we can be DIFFERENT! We can be saints! And do you know what our superpower is?"

"Um.. we can climb walls?"

"No. Our superpower is that we can LOVE!"

I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. Ezekiel 36: 25-27

This, but holier


God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation. Is 12:2-3

It seems like most of us live with this cloud of gloom hanging over our heads. And who can blame us? Things in the world seem horrible. Bombings that kill hundreds of innocent people, nations torn  apart by divisive hate-filled politics, brokenness everywhere, in our families, in our church, in the news, in ourselves. It seems the best thing to do is just 'accept reality' and give up hope, just try to protect ourselves from the worst of an ugly world. People are bad, things are hopeless.

But Jesus' death and resurrection means something! Death, the ugliest and most powerful foe of all, has been defeated. It no longer has power over us! Because if Jesus really rose from the dead, then the sin and suffering and death we see all around us is NOT the final word. Our God is a God of LIFE, of newness, of new beginnings and light in what seems like crushing darkness.

The truth is that LOVE prevails. Love wins. Love has the final word. The God of life has promised to bring to life anyone who comes to Him. That newness of life begins now. We celebrate it in this Easter season. There is nothing that need rob your peace. God will bring clarity to your uncertainty about the future. He will bring healing to your wounds. He will bring good out of evil. He will get you through whatever difficult situation you're going through. We may be in the middle of a battle but the war has been won.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”  
Saint John Paul II

Related Reading

Why Are We an Easter People?

When You Are in a Dark Place and Can’t Get Out

The Antidotes to Anxiety

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Girl in the Coffee Shop

She had a book open in front of her, but she hardly glanced at it. Instead, she kept staring out of the window, occasionally leaning to the right to get a better view. I looked too, but all I could see was a short stretch of a busy street. What was she looking at? There was nothing that seemed to warrant that much interest.

She was pretty, but her posture was slouched, her hair was pulled back into a bun, and she wore no visible make up or jewelry. There was a backpack at her feet, instead of a handbag, so maybe she was a college student? But perhaps not - she didn't seem to wear the little air of self-consciousness that teenagers often do. Plus college students dress up more nowadays, don't they? Her face wore an intense, but abstracted look. What was going on in her head? And why was she sitting in a noisy coffee shop alone for over an hour?

Was she a writer, caught up in her inner world of imagination and plots? The open notebook and pen lent themselves to this theory. But then, why did she keep getting distracted by the street outside?

Maybe she was waiting for someone. When she wasn't staring at the street, she kept glancing back at the door. But the classic give away of one who waits is the constant fidgeting with the phone. 'Has he left yet? Is he late? Where is he now? What time is it?' Only the phone reveals the answers to these all-important questions - and she hadn't looked at her phone even once. Wait a minute, did she even have a phone? I hadn't seen evidence of one, and I was struck suddenly by how unusual that was. Perhaps she was one of those enlightened minimalists who feel called to live an unplugged life, to go back to simpler times. But for an enlightened, living-in-the-present-moment saint, she sure seemed pretty distracted and fidgety.

If she was expecting someone to walk in the door any second, she would probably look more eager or tense. Instead, she had a little furrow in her brow - either a thinking furrow or a worried furrow, or both, but occasionally a smile would flash across her face at a passing secret thought.

What was the secret of the girl in the coffee shop and why was she fascinated by the short stretch of road outside the window? Would I ever know, or would it be one of those unsolved mysteries that would haunt me for the rest of my life?

A few minutes later, she turned as the door swung open and a bearded young man in a blue checked shirt walked through. Matching smiles lit both their faces, as she jumped up, and they met in an embrace. That's when I noticed the rings on their left hands.

'Lovers', I thought, returning to my coffee. 'It's always lovers.'

A short sketch from my last visit to meet my fiancé. I had left my charger at home and my phone was dead. We had a pre-decided rendezvous point close to the hospital where he works, but he was in surgery, so for all I knew, it could have taken hours for him to finish. I wrote this sketch as I waited, from the POV of another customer.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Quick Thoughts on the New Graham Staines Movie

'The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story' is a 2019 American-made movie that came out in India a week ago. It was shot on location near Hyderabad, and portrays the life and murder of Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who worked with lepers in India, who was burned alive with his two sons just twenty years ago.

I'm usually very wary of any independent movies made by Christians because they are infamous for bad acting, bad storytelling, and being extremely unsubtle and preachy coughFireproofcough. I know many Christians don't care, and get something out of it anyway, but I'm embarrassed for anyone who isn't a Christian to see most of these kind of movies. Still, I went for this movie because it was based on a story that is still important to Indian Christians at least. The subject matter was real enough and relevant enough to my life to risk it being badly made.

To my surprise, it wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. I was able to follow the story without getting distracted by bad acting. I thought the cinematography was beautiful for a low budget (?) film, Sharman Joshi (playing the journalist whose perspective the story is about), Stephen Baldwin (playing Grahan Staines) and Shari Rigby (playing Gladys Staines) weren't bad. The journalist's wife and the Staines kids were a little stilted, but maybe that was just the fault of the dialogue, not their acting.


The plot and story telling could have been better IMO. Most Indian movies tend to over dramatize everything, so I wasn't shocked by the dramatic dum-dum-daaaaa moments. But I feel like they missed many ways to tell such a dramatic story better. The journalist's turning point wasn't clear, the montage of memories with the song 'Between Here and Heaven' was a missed emotional peak. It came out of nowhere when it could have been used beautifully to reinforce a dramatic moment or a big reveal or turning point. I also don't think it was clear why the name of the movie was 'The Least of These'. It didn't all connect together very well.


I was emotionally and mentally preparing myself for the shock, horror and grief of Graham and his young sons' brutal death. I was glad they cut away before their efforts to escape, charred bodies and painful screams. I don't think I could have handled that. But in their efforts to not overdo it, I think they didn't allow us to feel the horror and impact of what really happened. Gladys' reaction seemed very restrained, which is maybe how it was in real life, but again, the portrayal of a wife and mother who has lost her husband and two young sons to a horrific, violent death is what could have and should have brought it home to the most hardened of hearts. Still, our imaginations and empathy filled in the gaps.

The real Gladys and her daughter at the funeral


I was impressed that the movie from the first moment jumped right into the most controversial of topics in India - conversions. That took guts considering the current situation and the backlash they could easily face. But they courageously made their point - 'The question is not whether conversions happened, but whether conversions happened illegally - by force, fraud or inducement.' The journalist asks Staines in the movie if he wanted people to convert. He told him about the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, that only one came back, but Jesus healed all of them anyway. He was honest - he hoped they would accept Jesus. But it was obvious that there were no conditions to his service of the lepers he worked with. In real life, Staines was cleared of all wrongdoing after accusations of forced conversions were made against him.


It was very interesting that the movie did not mention any of the political connections to the murder of Staines. But it was an easy Google search to learn the facts of what happened. I was shocked when I read the Supreme Court comments on the case, which basically seemed to imply that Staines brought it on himself by being involved in (voluntary) conversions. It was expunged from the records a few days later after public outcry, but it serves to show us what some people in places of authority really think about this matter. It should have been a simple and obvious matter that murder (especially of children) should be condemned without qualifications. But innocence and doing good sometimes rouse even more anger and contempt.


It seems as if the fact that Staines served lepers in India for over thirty years didn't stop people from doubting his motives and his goodwill. Of course the people whom he actually worked with didn't have to be convinced. Like with Mother Teresa, it seems as if people can close their eyes to the truth if they want to. If I heard about Hindu missionaries serving the poor and suffering, and people choosing to become Hindu because of the love they experienced, I would think they were a little misguided, but still praiseworthy and not worth criticizing. Genuine love and service is always praiseworthy. Christians who talk but don't live the Matthew 25 way of life can legitimately be criticized.


The craziest and most beautiful part of this whole story is Gladys Staines, who chose to 'overcome evil with good', by publicly forgiving the murderers, and remaining to serve the lepers in India with her daughter Esther for several years. She won the Padma Shri (the fourth highest civilian award in India) in 2005 for her work. The movie mentions her forgiveness at the end, but I think that easily could have been the theme of the whole movie.

So, bottom line - I recommend the movie, and think everyone should watch it, because unlike most other Christian* movies in recent years, it focuses on facts, not rhetoric, and the facts and the actual story are enough to make at least those who are open-minded think about the state of our country and what they want to stand for.

One of the side-effects of the movie was that my friends and I walked out of the theater with a re-ignited desire to serve 'the least of these' - the ones who are marginalized, alone, rejected, ignored. The work isn't over, the need continues, and it's all around us. 'Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.'

*I know it wasn't SUPPOSED to be a 'Christian' movie, but it was pretty obvious that it was.

Related Reading

Should Conversions Be Illegal?

The Two Big Missing Pieces of Our Catholic Faith

Other Movie Reviews

Monday, 1 April 2019

Bad, Not Good Enough and Good Reasons to Get Married

Bad Reasons to Get Married

1. Because your mother needs some help around the house: A friend of a friend was giving me a ride to Goa. I had never met him before, but was quite happy to ask him questions about his life, and he seemed quite happy to answer (I've become an inquisitive auntie). He was a young man, and from a small town in India. He said, "My mother is getting older and finds it more difficult to get things done around the house. So she told me I should find a bride. I told her, if you need help around the house, we'll hire a maid, not find me a wife."

2. Because everyone in your life thinks you should get married: It's not really your job or responsibility to make sure everyone in your life is perfectly pleased with your life decisions, because guess what, they will never ALL be perfectly pleased. “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time”.

3. Because everyone else your age (and younger) seems to be getting married: Marriage isn't a trend, or a fashion, or a cool bandwagon to jump on. Yes, you get your great pictures and Facebook likes, but after that you have to actually live with another human being and build a family with them, so 'everyone else is doing it' may not keep you going with such a personal and permanent life change.

4. Because you're lonely: If you're lonely, you need to make some friends. Share your life with people. Marriage is not the only form of companionship. I found great joy in my women's households. I love hanging out with my little nieces. I have deep and real conversations with many close friends. But also, I realize the deeper desires can only be met by the Lord. A married lady told me once. "I have a good husband, but I still feel lonely sometimes within my marriage." Marriage isn't a cure-all for the deepest longings of our hearts. When we find God, being alone is no longer the worst fate in the world. In fact, the happiest people are the ones who have discovered how to be content on their own. If you haven't learned to be happy alone, you probably will not know how to be happy with another person.

5. Because you want to have a fun wedding and be the center of attention: Come on, search your heart... is this motive lurking somewhere in there? Weddings are expensive, attention is fleeting, marriage is forever. You may have noticed that weddings seem to be getting more expensive, but more and more of your friends and colleagues seem to have crumbling marriages. Marriage ≠ Weddings.

6. Because you feel like there is something missing: You've finished your studies, you are doing well in your career, you have lived an adventurous youth. What's next? I guess it's marriage! If you feel a hole in your heart, a desire, a longing for something more, it may not be marriage. it may be God. Go on a retreat. Spend time in silence in nature. Open up your heart to the Bigger, Wilder, Awesome-r Answer. If you keep jumping from one easy answer to the next, your heart may never learn to be still enough to get the real one.

7. Because you want to secure your future and 'be settled': Get a secure job if you're looking for financial security, study further, educate yourself, invest. Marriage is not supposed to be a business arrangement. This is a human being, not a means to an end.

8. Because 'why not?': 'Why not?' works for decisions with minor consequences like trying out a new restaurant, or going on a blind date. Marriage with a specific person needs a specific 'Why'!

Good, but Not Good Enough Reasons to Get Married

1. Because you're in love: Being in love is pretty cool (I can attest from personal experience), but on it's own, contrary to what Hollywood tells us, is not enough to build a lasting and stable marriage. That's because 'being in love' is not exactly the same as 'choosing to love'. If you just love the 'in love' feelings, and build your entire marriage on those feelings, you're going to have a hard time when stress increases and feelings wax and wane (as they DO!), when your wife goes through postnatal depression, when your husband loses his job and stops communicating, when the kids make sure you are both constantly sleep-deprived. Then you're going to wonder if 'being in love' was enough.

2. Because you want to love someone other than yourself: That's actually a pretty good reason, but still not enough for a lifelong marriage. That's because marriage is supposed to be reciprocal, not just a charity project, or a way for you to feel useful. So though it may be PART of the reason, not enough on its own. Start loving the people around you, look for the ones God is calling you to love. Marriage is not the only way to pour yourself out.

3. Because you want to have sweet babies: Love overflows into new life, and there is a good reason why marriage and babies traditionally go together. Catholics promise to accept children willingly from God when they make their marriage vows. But wanting babies is not a good enough reason to get married, because marriage is about the union of two human beings before it is about the creation of new life. You need to want to marry this person even if you are unable to have children, or if you lose your children, or if it is years before you are able to conceive. A marriage can weaken when either parent gets so wrapped up in the children that they forget their spouse.

Good Reasons to Get Married

1. Because God has called you to marry THIS particular person: You may feel called to marriage, but the real question is 'Is THIS the person God has called me to give myself to?' You can only know this through prayer, spending significant amount of time with the person you are considering marrying, and through an interior peace of heart. If you feel sure about that, then you can move forward without the fear of what the future will bring, because you have One unchanging, stable, trustworthy participant in your marriage.

2. Because you are convinced God has a plan for you and your spouse to bring Him to the world: A holy marriage is supposed to be a mission, a sign to the world, not just two people gazing into each other's eyes forever. When you both understand that marriage is not just about getting your needs met, when you are ready to join hands and start the adventure of loving and bringing light to the world, then the sacrifices of marriage are worth it.

3. Because you both understand that marriage is a project of love: If you both can see love as not some static thing, but an ongoing project, a choice you make each day, something that is created and deepened and shaped by your will, you are ready to say 'I do' and mean it.

'Love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman, it is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends upon the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.' Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility

Bishop Robert Barron says it better than I-

“I’m convinced that the deep sacramental and religious meaning of marriage—even within the Church—has been, in recent years, dramatically compromised. We say that marriage is a vocation, but do we mean it? 

We can look at human sexual relationships at a number of different levels. Two people can come together purely for physical pleasure, for economic reasons, or for psychological companionship. And we might witness two people coming together out of authentic love. But none of these levels is what the Bible means by marriage. 

When I was doing parish work I would invariably ask young couples, "Why do you want to get married in church?" Most would say something like, "Because we love each other." But I would reply, "Well, that’s no reason to get married in church." They usually looked stunned, but I meant it. 

You come to church to be married before God and his people when you are convinced that your marriage is not, finally, about you; that it is about God and about serving God’s purposes; that it is, as much as the priesthood of a priest, a vocation, a sacred calling.”

Maybe you already married for the wrong reasons. Is it too late? No, because God comes in and transforms at any point that we invite Him in. He always has a Plan B, and way to 'write straight with crooked lines'. God has a plan for you AND your marriage! Don't give up hope!

P.S. If at the time you got married in the Church, either you or your spouse did not understand what marriage was, or made the promises without meaning them, or deceived each other in any way, you may have grounds for an annulment. Just FYI.

Related Reading

Stages of a Relationship

What Not to Look for in an Indian Spouse

Misconceptions: Marriage is Just a Piece of Paper

Ask Sue - Why 'Till Death Do Us Part'? 

When Your Facebook Feed Explodes with Weddings