Incredible India

“Incredible India” is India’s national tourism slogan.   My brother lives there and my parents and I visited him two years ago.

IMG_1260

We traveled in December and as we left the US, I heard, I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas, playing on the radio.   When we arrived in India, the same song was being broadcast.  Our friend calls those occasions, “hellos from heaven.”  Others call them, “God-incidences,” or “God breaking in.”   Do you have any that you’d like to share?

I used to run a Junior Youth Group at church and one year, I gave the children a handout of how different countries celebrate their Christian holy days.  The picture of the orange, white and green flag indicated the traditions in Goa, India.  The Portuguese brought Christianity to India in the 16th century and faith is expressed in a sweet and simple way.   Micro-buses have signs on the windshield that read…

IMG_1252

The churches are impressive and ornate…

IMG_1317

…and mention of religious celebrations appeared alongside secular stories in the newspaper.

I saw an openness to Christianity, even though only 2.3% of the population (29 million!) is Christian.  One day, we took a swerving taxi ride to St. Francis Xavier’s tomb.   St. Francis was an early Jesuit priest who evangelized India and was en route to China when he died.  His body was later returned to India.  Many people were there  paying honor to a man who cared enough to leave his native Spain and spread the Gospel in India and the Far East.

IMG_1285

India has its problems but it also has a vivacity and joy.  One night, we took a walk after dinner and heard a loud band playing.  I went exploring and found a six piece band, consisting of drums and brass instruments playing.  They encircled a groom and were serenading him.  They were dressed in bright red and yellow costumes and the groom wore a pink headpiece and was sitting atop a white horse.

IMG_1232

The whole party began walking toward the bride.  Additional people joined and there were about twenty five people surrounding the groom.  I had walked ahead and rejoined my family.  My dad enjoyed the procession so much that he joined the dancing and clapping group.  He stayed with them the next few minutes until they reached the awaiting bride.

Menus in India can be comical.  Although many people speak English, there are numerous native dialects.  This shows up in translation.   One menu read; “chili salamander au gratin” and another, “homely chicken.”

In India, I saw the same joy about faith that I’d seen as a lay missionary in Bolivia and on mission in China.  People get excited about their faith: they dance, they sing, they praise and worship God. 

Their enthusiasm for life and God returned home with me.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.”   – Nehemiah 8:11

How’s Your Hearing?

I lectored at Mass on the recent feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.   The first reading was taken from the tenth chapter of Romans, so  appropriate since St. Andrew was sent by our Lord to preach, and preach he did.  He proclaimed the Gospel as he hung on the cross… how’s that for apostolic ardor?

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul mentions various forms of the infinitive “to hear” at least five times.  For example:

“And how can they can believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear, without someone to preach?”    -Romans 10:14

Paul proclaiming the Good News
       Paul proclaiming the Good News

And some verses later;

“But not everyone has heeded the good news… thus faith comes through what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”                           -Romans 10:16-17

This theme of “hearing” is taken up in the first Encyclical of Pope Francis, The Light of Faith;

“Saint Paul would use a formula which became classic: fides ex auditu, “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17). Knowledge linked to a word is always personal knowledge; it recognizes the voice of the one speaking, opens up to that person in freedom and follows him or her in obedience. Paul could thus speak of the “obedience of faith.”    – P. 29

“It recognizes the voice of the one speaking,” writes the Pope.  This links up closely with Jesus’ words;

He talks to His sheep
He talks to His sheep

“…and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls  his own sheep by name and leads them out…because they recognize his voice.”   John 10:3-4

Which leads us to one of the great themes of Advent; waiting and listening for the Lord.  I know that the best way for me to hear the voice of Jesus is to read the Word, and take time to ponder it; to really listen.  The world, and my own inner ‘noise,’ can block out His voice, if I allow it.  Maybe you can relate?

Recently, my wife and I ended our cable TV service.  It was something we carefully discussed before finally “taking the plunge.” It has been just over a week, and we don’t miss it.  Not only that, but we’re experiencing more peace, and a greater intimacy with the Lord. The fact that we did this in Advent is a blessed ‘God-incidence.’ Where our TV used to sit, now rests our Advent wreath.  Each night, we’re dedicating special prayer time as we light the appropriate candle.  We consider the daily Mass readings and let the Word open up for us in all its power and peace.  In the silence, He speaks.

Let’s be honest.  So much of TV is distraction.  In fact, the world seems designed to create all kinds of ‘noise’ so as to drown out the one thing that we really need to hear.  But we do have a choice.

My wife and I are choosing to listen to Jesus.  It’s that simple…

…and it’s that hard.

COME LORD JESUS …and help us to listen!