Category Archives: Asia

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

On January 30, 1948, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.

Gandhi, often called “Mahatma” – the “Great Souled” one – had struggled for many years to free India not only from the British but from dependency on British, from discriminatory policies against the untouchables, and from the divide between Hindus and Muslims.

In the course of his life he articulated what have been called the seven deadly social sins:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice

For us Christians, these could provide a great assistance in our examinations of conscience.

Some day I need to reflect more deeply on each of them. But today I offer them for our examen.


Seeds of greatness

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned,
and made them known to the little one.
Luke 10, 21

 On December 3, 1552, a Basque Jesuit priest, Francis Xavier, died on an island off the coast of China. Only 46 years old, he had spent eleven years in Asia, bringing the Gospel to many people in India, Indonesia, Japan, and other lands.

He had baptized tens of thousands. In a letter complaining about the failure of the European universities to respond to the need for missionaries, he had written:

In these lands so many people come to faith in Jesus Christ that many times my arms fail me because of the painful work of baptizing them.

Though his body is venerated in Goa, India, the arm he used to baptize is preserved above an altar in the church of the Gesù in Rome.

The right arm of St. Francis Xavier, the Gesù, Rome

The right arm of St. Francis Xavier, the Gesù, Rome

In India he often worked with the poorest and most abandoned who were victims of the avarice and injustice of the Portuguese colonists. But for him it was a joy.

He once wrote to his friend and superior, St. Ignatius Loyola,

We came next to the villages of the new Christians who had been converted a few years back….The native Christians are very poor; they are without priests and know only that they are Christians: there is no one to preach to them, no one to teach them the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer an the Hail Mary, or Gods commandments.

Ever since I came here I have constantly been visiting the villages and baptizing children in great numbers… during this time I have also begun to realize that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I have found in these children the seeds of spiritual greatness and have no doubt that if there were teachers to train them in Christian ways, they would become excellent Christians.

Francis Xavier found in these poor people “the seeds of spiritual greatness.”

The bishops at Vatican II and the Latin American bishops at Puebla and Aparecida spoke of the “seeds of the Word” present in peoples before being evangelized.

It is important to recognize that God has worked and is working in peoples, especially in the little ones, before the missionaries come.

This reminds me of a quote of John Taylor that I have often used with people going on service or immersion trips:

Our first task in approaching
another people, another culture, another religion,
is to take off our shoes,
for the place we are approaching is holy.
Else we may find ourselves treading on another’s dream.
More seriously still,
we may forget
that God was there before our arrival.




Obscurity of our witness

For years I have been compiling a calendar of witnesses to holiness, justice, and peace. I try to find a quote attributed to the person. I use this calendar as part of my morning prayer – a sort of modern martyrology.

Today I have an entry for a Jesuit from India who was disappeared and killed, most probably for his work with untouchables.

Fr. Thomas T. Anchaninkal, S.J. (1951-1997), [known as A.T. Thomas], was disappeared in the state of Bihar, India, on October 24, 1997. His body was found decapitated about two days later.

I had noted a quote of an interview, but I have not been able to find any other information. He is one of the obscure witnesses to the Love and Justice of the Reign of God.

In the interview he is quoted as saying:

“when one works for the poor, these [the possibilities of being killed] are the things which one has to face. Jesus would not have died on the cross if he had not made the option for the poor. He would have died from a heart attack. Jesus made the option for the poor and he inspires me to do the same.”

His life is obscure – but his commitment to the outsiders calls me to deepen my commitment.

I don’t expect to be martyred as he was, but I do feel the call to move to deeper solidarity with the poor.

For this reason, as I have noted in another blog I have, next year I am moving – primero, Dios – to live in an aldea [a rural village] to better serve the poor in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, Copán, Honduras.

Here’s a picture of the church in the village:

Plan Grande church and school

Plan Grande church and school

Taking the place of Matthias and Isagani Valle

Benedictine Daily Prayer has a reading from a sermon of John Henry Newman for the feast. In the sermon Newman notes “We take the place of others who have gone before us, as Matthias did…”

There are many who have gone before us – some well known, others unknown. They include our family members as well as friends.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Matthias who took over Judas’ place among the apostles. We know almost nothing about him – except that he was chosen by lot over another candidate, both of whom had been with Jesus since the baptism of Jesus by John and were witnesses to the resurrection. (Acts 1: 15-26). All the rest is legend.

Today is also the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the Carmelite seminarian Isagani Valle in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, Mindanao, the Philippines, while on an immersion in this poor area. Walking with two farmers who may have been members of the guerrilla New Peoples Army, he was shot down by the police.

In one of his study-group reflections he wrote:

We still have to see a theology that proceeds from the people and goes back to the people; a theology which contains the lives and experiences of the masses; a theology that is dialogical. This needs real immersion in the lives, sufferings and struggles of the people. It is being written in the midst of the slums, in dialogue with the poor and their life-situation: It is that place where we, seminarians, have to listen and learn. It will, for sure, be different from a theology written in air-conditioned rooms. We must work and struggle for this theology – liberative and developmental of the people, and transformative of reality.

Who will take the place of people like Isagani, accompanying the poor.  He is unknown to most of us, but he is one who took seriously these words of Jesus in today’s Gospel (John 15:12-13) :

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

A short biography of Isagani Valle can be found here. (Scroll down to his story.)

Gandhi: Living a civilized life

Sixty-five years ago in 1948, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi, know as the Mahatma, the Great-Souled, was assassinated in India.

When he visited England, he was asked by a reporter,  “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?”

Gandhi replied: “I think it would be a good idea!”

Graffiti on a NYC wall (scanned from a post card)

Graffiti on a NYC wall (scanned from a post card)

Faced with what many identify as the superior Western Civilization, Gandhi saw that this claim is baseless. The imperialism of the West, most often seen in economic and military terms, is really a question of spirituality.

At one point Gandhi identified what I would call the seven capital social sins:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice

If we use these “sins” as part of an individual and community examination of conscience I think we’d be on the road to living the civilization of love that Christ preached. As the late Pope John Paul II said, “Only a humanity in which there reigns the ‘civilization of love’ will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace.””

Again Gandhi offers us a challenge on how we can be better followers of Christ. Will we listen to his voice?

The challenge and joys of mission and St. Francis Xavier

Today the Catholic Church celebrates Francis Xavier, the great missionary. One of the first Jesuits he was sent to south Asia at the age of thirty-five, where he labored, seemingly without rest, until he died at the age of forty-six, on an island off China.

The patron of missions, he offers us some lessons for our daily lives of spreading the Good News of Jesus.

In India he was known for his love and care for the poor, even offering Mass each week for the lepers. After visiting hospitals and prisons in the morning, he would go around town with a bell, gathering children for catechism classes.

His zeal was almost without bounds, but he had a deep love and respect for the people he met. As he wrote in one letter to St. Ignatius of the children he baptized, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I have found in these children the seeds of spiritual greatness…”

But it was not enough to care personally for the poor. He sought justice for them, even writing the King of Portugal, denouncing the injustices he saw:

There is danger that when our Lord God calls Your Highness to his judgment Your Highness may hear angry words from Him: “Why did you not punish those who were your subjects and who were enemies of Me in India?”

But when he went to Japan, recognizing the high culture and education he found there, he adopted a different approach and approached the rulers well dressed and as a representative of the Portuguese king.

Though I appreciate more his approach to the poor, I can understand why he thought he should approach Japan in a different way, becoming as St. Paul said, “all things to all people.”

But all through this exhausting mission work he seems to have maintained a deep spiritual joy. As he wrote:

The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks that I undertake for God are springs of spiritual joy, so much so that these islands are the places in all the world for a man to lose his sight by excess of weeping; but they are tears of joy.

May he inspire us with his zeal, challenge us with his love of the poor and his cries for justice, and help us be signs of the Kingdom of God wherever we may be.

For all of us are called to be missionaries – some of us in places like India and Honduras, others in the recesses of our homes and towns.

Gandhi and the courage we need

On October 2, 1869, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi was born in India. He is now known as Mohandas – the Great Souled One.

In the late 1960s I read Thomas Merton’s Gandhi on Non-violence which has a marvelous essay by Merton, “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,”  followed by quotations from Gandhi.

What I most remember is Gandhi’s insistence on courage.

Gandhi had more respect for a soldier who risked his life in battle than for a supposedly nonviolent person who fled in the face of violence and conflict. He would rather a person fight with a weapon than flee, especially in the face of injustice.

A coward cannot be trained as a satyagrahi, a nonviolent activist, but a soldier could.

 It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent. There is no such hope for the impotent.

But how to train to become a non-violent person? Gandhi’s response is simple, though not all that easy:

Nonviolent persons will get all their training through nursing the sick, saving those in danger at the risk of their own life, patrolling places which may be in fear of thieves and rioters, and in laying down their lives, in necessary, in dissuading them from their purpose. The first and last shield and buckler of nonviolent persons will be their unwavering faith in God.

This Hindu man may have been one of the few persons in the twentieth century who really knew what the sermon on the mount was about and then lived it – without becoming a Christian.

He, like Dorothy Day, put his life on the line and lived for and with the poor and in the process preached a sermon on nonviolence that we need to hear today.

Korean Christian witnesses

Korea has a significant Christian population. The Catholic Church in Korea owes its origins to the work of lay Koreans. Today is the anniversary of the birth of one Korean Catholic activist and the anniversary of the death of a Koran Quaker activist.

Kim Chi Ha, Korean Catholic writer and activist born on February 4, 1941. He was imprisoned several times because of his denouncements of in justice and torture. In one of his plays,  The Gold-Crowned Jesus, he has this dialogue between a leper and Jesus:

“LEPER: What can be done to free you, Jesus, make you alive again so that you can come to us?
“JESUS: My power alone is not enough. People like you must help to liberate me. Those who seek only the comforts, wealth, honor, and power of this world, who wish entry to the kingdom of heaven for themselves only and ignore the poor and less fortunate, cannot give me life again. . . . Only those, though very poor and suffering like yourself, who are generous in spirit and seek to help the poor and the wretched can give me life again. You removed the gold crown from my head and so freed my lips to speak. People like you will be my liberators.”

On February 4, 1988, Ham Sok Han, “Teacher Han,” a Korean Quaker activist, died. He once wrote:

“I believe in God. We should not be pessimistic. One of the great truths is that of desire and hope. We must cherish unconditionally an optimistic future. Intellectually, I don’t know what the world will be like in the future but I have tried through my faith to follow the right road and the righteous way. When we climb the mountain, we at times must descend in order to be able to climb the next mountain. Our problem is, how do we establish a strong and abiding faith in God.”

These two witnesses challenge us to grow in faith and in living out this faith in action with the poor and the oppressed. May their witness help us to be better followers of Christ.


Fear, Gandhi, and Thomas Merton

Mohandas K. Gandhi (the “Mahatma” – the great-souled one), was assassinated India, on January 30, 1948. Since I first read some of his writings in the 1960s I have been moved by his call for courageous resistance to injustice. This is no easy call – but I think it’s part of our call as humans, especially as followers of the nonviolent Jesus:

“Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for nonviolence. Violence does not mean emancipation from fear, but discovering the means of combating the cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He reckons not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. [Whoever] has not overcome all fear cannot practice nonviolence to perfection. The votary of nonviolence has only one fear, that is of God.”

As I re-read this quote, I recalled Thomas Merton’s remarkable essay, “The Root of War Is Fear,” found in his  New Seeds of Contemplation. As he wrote:

“At the root of war is fear; not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves.”

May the Lord deliver us from fear and give us the courage to speak truth to power, not counting the cost.

The challenge of St. Francis Xavier

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
  Matthew 9: 38-39 

December 3 is the feast of the Jesuit missionary to Asia, St. Francis Xavier, S.J, who lived from 1506 to 1552.

In a letter he wrote on higher education of his time, he challenged the people of his own time – and ours.

“Often I am overcome with the desire to cry out against the universities, especially against the University of Paris . . . and to rage with all my powers like a fool who has lost his senses.

“I would cry out against those who are more preoccupied with becoming scientists than with letting people in need profit from their science . . . I am afraid that many who learn their disciplines at the university are more interested in using them to acquire honors, bishoprics, privileges, and high position than in using them for what is just and necessary. . . The common word is: ‘I will study “letters” in order to get some good privileged position in the Church, and after that  I will live for God.’ These people are brutes, following the guidance of their sensuality and disordered impulses. . . They do not trust in God, nor do they give themselves completely to him . . . they are afraid that God does not want what they desire and that when they obtain him they are forced to abandon their unjustly acquired privileges. . .

“How many would be enlightened by the faith of the Gospel if there were some who would put all their effort into finding good people who are willing to make sacrifices to search for and find not what belongs to them, but what belongs to Jesus Christ. In these lands so many people come to faith in Jesus Christ that many times my arms fail me because of the painful work of baptizing them.”

(The quotation can be found in Henri Nouwen’s Road to Daybreak.)