28 January 2017

Bro. Robert Dias RIP

Robert Dias SDB - "Secretary par excellence"!

As we mourn the sad demise of our Salesian Brother, Robert Dias, on 4th. November 2016, at a ripe old age 93, many memories of his edifying life rush into my mind. Chief among these, for certain, many will agree is: "Rev. Bro. Bob, the committed Salesian at the Secretarial desk." Infact, I remember him as a long time, faithful secretary to Archbishop of Madras -Mylapore, Louis Mathias for many years. 

Later, after the death of the Archbishop, Bro. Bob served as Secretary to several Provincials of the Southern Salesian province of Madras, India, extending  over Tamilnad, Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharastra. After the province of Bombay was was established, we requested the experienced secretarial services of Bro. Bob and he willingly took up this responsibility in the provincial office. 

Bro. Bob was certainly a great help to me, not only with his secretarial skills but as a committed and convinced Salesian Brother. Observing him at close quarters, he came across as a person of deep faith in God, with tender devotion to Mother Mary and a steadfast attachment to Don Bosco and his own identity as a Salesian Brother. 

He was a very dependable secretary with a keen sense of duty done to perfection. 
He attended to his desk work, tapping the typewriter keys into late nights to get the provincial circulars and other correspondence despatched on time. He was very caring in his dealings especially with young Salesians and quite popular at community gatherings. Even at an advanced age, he surprised us with his active presence on the field, yes, formidable with the hockey stick in hand.

I saw in Robert,"an elder brother" who lived life with exemplary religious zest. He could be consulted and entrusted with confidential matters. Though much senior to me in age and Salesian profession, and while he was at times quite opinionated, his exemplary faith and respect for superiors was an edifying lesson.

At the request of the Superiors, Bro. Bob served in the office of the General Secretariat in Rome, for a couple of years. In response to the missionary appeal, Bro. Bob opted for the African missions and here too, we had his precious services as provincial secretary for quite some years in Nairobi, Kenya. Bro. Robert spent the last years of his life as a zealous missionary in Uganda and as per his desire, is laid to rest in the land of the Ugandan martyrs. 

As a genuine missionary, Bro. Bob always manifested a deep love for the people of the mission land rather than the land itself. He leaves us to cherish and even imitate his edifying life of total commitment to God and selfless dedication to his vocation of a Salesian, Missionary Brother. 

May The Lord embrace his most faithful Disciple, Robert Dias SDB and through his intercession bless our Salesian Congregation with more missionary vocations.

Paul the convert

25th’ January: Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
 (DB Novena 4th Day – Love & Punishment)
Today’s Liturgy draws our attention to a unique conversion of a sinner Saul to a Saint Paul. On this final day of the Christian Unity Week, we pray for the conversion of hearts and reconciliation   among all Christian churches, to form one flock under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ. On this fourth day of the Novena we pray through the intercession of Don Bosco, for the conversion of our families from brokenness and sinfulness to wholeness and holiness.                                                      And now, because we believe that God is our compassionate and merciful Father, who is eagerly, waiting to pardon us not punish us, let us humbly confess our sins and pray in this Eucharist for our own conversion to communion with Jesus.  
Today’s Liturgy draws our attention to a two thousand year old conversion story of a sinner Saul to a Saint Paul.  But why celebrate a conversion? For waging a cruel persecution against the Disciples of Christ, Saul should have been punished. Instead, Jesus intercepts this persecutor on his way to Damascus, transforms him with his forgiving love and enrols him among his Apostles.  No punishment but pardon. That’s the story of God’s mercy that converts every sinner and celebrates a saint. Jesus celebrated conversions through forgiveness not punishments. The parables like the prodigal son, the conversion stories of Peter who denied the Master, of Thomas who doubted Christ’s resurrection, of a sinner woman, Magdalene, of the tax collector, Zaccheus, and several others recorded in Sacred Scripture, result in a joyous celebration of Conversions through God’s merciful pardon, not harsh punishment.
With reason, therefore, the Church commemorates this spectacular conversion of Saul from a fanatical persecutor to a faithful proclaimer, chiefly to focus our attention on the forgiving pedagogy of God’s incarnate love, Jesus Christ. Won over, more by the love of the compassionate Jesus, Saul became Paul, a committed missionary with deep convictions:   I live not I, Christ lives in me; for me to live is Christ; Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel of Love not punishments.
Let us reflect on another 200 years old conversion story of a fatherless, young Johnny who becomes Fr. John Bosco. He is acclaimed today as the Father of poor and needy youth across the world. Don Bosco claimed that he received in a dream or spiritual experience  at the age of nine, not only his mission to be an educator, but was also given a sure Guide, the Mother of mercy and  a distinct educative method: Not with blows. No punishments but pardon.  To be faithful to this sacred calling, Don Bosco also claimed that he did not take a single step without the guidance of Mother Mary, and that he won the hearts of the young, not by instilling in them an unholy fear of a punishing God, but by inculcating a spirituality of the heart, based on God’s overwhelming love   as described by St. Francis de Sales, the patron Don Bosco chose for his religious congregation.  
“Spare the rod and spoil the child”, has been an oft repeated principle since the time of the Public  schools and boardings as depicted in movies like Oliver Twist and Annie. Corporal punishments were endorsed as a salutary method of education.  It was in fact prevalent in the 19th century. The pious Mummy of Johnny did not exclude punishments in raising her children. DB recalls how he expected to be punished by his mother when he had accidentally broken an oil jar. He got ready a cane to receive a well deserved punishment. Instead, his wise Mama Margaret, rewarded his honesty and condoned his petty crime, thus teaching the future educator that pardon does more good than punishment for children. This conviction was planted in his mind even in that dream or vision at the age of nine, when he was commissioned to transform naughty children from fighting wolves into gentle sheep, with a clear mandate: Not with blows or punishments!
Years later, reflecting on his flourishing youth apostolate, and the growing team of Salesians, initially in Italy, then in Europe and across the continent, Don Bosco attributed the successs of his youth ministry to the  divinely inspired method of educating the young: Not with blows. He named it the Preventive System of education as opposed to the Repressive system, which was much in vogue at that time and consisted in making the rules known and then punishing the offenders.
Based on the three pillars of Religion, Reason and Loving Kindness, the Preventive system of Don Bosco instead, requires the Parent or educator to be present as a father or mother, a teacher and a friend. As a father or mother, the educator inculcates an experience of a loving God, as a provider and caretaker, especially in the early stages of the child’s life;  then as the children grow through the phases of restless adolescence and intellectual curiosity,   the educator accompanies  them by his presence as a knowledgeable and competent Teacher, in a dialogue of reason and patience ; and all through this growing process , the parent or educator   remains present as a true Friend of the youth, always supportive especially as they mature through the spiritual, intellectual, moral and social challenges of adolescence, to grow into  good children of God  and honest citizens of the world.
Did Don Bosco talk of punishments? Yes, he did. His writings on punishments are interesting and valuable. “Wherever possible, never make use of punishments” he would say. “The educator ought to love if he wishes to be feared (respected)”, was another of his comments. “Withdrawing kindness is a punishment, but a punishment that excites emulation that encourages one never to repeat mistakes again.”  Youngsters who are mischievous find the strength to apologize, improve their behaviour when they realize that they have brought sadness to those who love them and whose affection they have lost. “With youngsters,” Don Bosco would say, “that which serves as a punishment punishes. It is observed that one look without affection at a certain youngster has greater effect than a slap. Praise when something is done well or pointing out the mistake is already a reward or punishment for the children” said Don Bosco.
It is obvious that to obtain positive results in this preventive system of education, there must already exist a healthy rapport of the parent/educator with the children, as father/mother, teacher and friend. Not only must the educator love the child, but the child must feel being loved, said Don Bosco. “Make yourself loved” Don Bosco repeated often to his Salesians.
When Don Bosco wrote a few pages on his “preventive system”, he must have surely had his mother, Mama Margaret in mind. She was father/mother, teacher and friend to her children and to Don Bosco, in particular, accompanying him all through his youth and later in his priestly youth ministry. In a circular letter to his Salesians on the subject of punishments, Don Bosco passed on her message when he wrote: Never resort to punishments, until you have exhausted all other means. Choose a favourable moment to correct. Remove every hint that would make people deduce that you are acting out of passion; carry out your correction in such a way that there is hope for the one that has made a mistake and possibly, pardon. Strive to make yourself loved, instill a sense of duty and a holy reverence of God and you will see with what admirable ease the doors of children’s   hearts will open.
As you may have already realized, the Preventive System of Don Bosco is in fact, the implementation of the Divine Pedagogy of Love and forgiveness as against Law and punishment,  preached and practised by The Eternal Educator, Jesus Christ. 
Unfortunately, our short tempered society today has strayed away into the shortcuts of violence and vengeance. Tragically, as you know too well, our children are exposed even in Homes and educational institutions to the blows of revenge and rebellion which only breeds terrorism.

However, like Don Bosco who hoped against hope and took up the challenge of replacing the Repressive system, let us confirm our belief in the Preventive System as relevant today and resolve to educate our children, the Jesus Way, not with blows of punishments but blessings of  pardon seventy times seven. As Salesian Family that we are, as educators today, we owe it to our children both at home and in school, to be present among them, as Fathers, Mothers, Teachers and Friends, who know to pardon and not to punish. Not with blows.