I have been thinking very often, particularly in these Covid times, of my late Professor Fr. Manuel Jose Barreto, and his many teachings given to us in the course of his classes. He was a very strict person, considered holy by many at that time. I was also privileged to have him as my Novice Master. He was a very wise man and an excellent writer, too. He was also a music lover, and I remember how he played the concertina with gusto.
I remember, very particularly, the teachings he used to give us about humility, and the important virtue of gratitude. He always had very nice and interesting stories and anecdotes to accompany his teachings, so that we would remember the values and virtues he had in mind to instil in us.
The first of these values and virtues was Humility, which was a very important virtue for Fr. Barreto. He tried hard to teach us. Even at the cost of many repetitions he would say that there was only one chariot which leads to heaven. And this chariot had four wheels. The first wheel was “humility”; the second was also “humility”, and the third and fourth wheels were also “humility”. Thus he had impressed upon us, his students, the great importance of the virtue of Humility. Fr. Barreto’s thesis was that, it was impossible to get to Heaven without this virtue. And rightly so. Every spiritual master will agree that Humility is a very important virtue for our spiritual lives. The Bible, which is “a lamp for my feet and a light for my paths” (Psalm 119:105), at all times, tells us this very clearly. The book of Proverbs tells us that, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honour” (Prov. 29:23). And Jesus said it very nicely: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Mt.23:12)
Lest we think that humility is a wheel of the chariot which leads one only to Heaven, we will do well to remember that, in fact, humility is a wheel of the chariot that leads to every kind of success, whether spiritual or worldly. If one wants to have a success that is lasting and not temporary, one needs to be humble, realizing that one is never to act as if one were God.
The present Covid situation in which we find ourselves, points precisely to the fact that we need to give the first place to God who is the sole Master and Lord of everybody and everything. He is the Lord of Science and medicine, both of which work according to the laws of God. This mind set is a must to have the correct vision of life. It will keep us away from the vice of pride, which is the root cause of many evils in society. Lack of humility can lead us to over-confidence and a superiority complex. It leads to an attitude of arrogance. It makes one overlook the value of consultation and team-work. Lack of humility prevents one from stepping forward and apologizing. It also prevents people from seeing the possibility of there being others who are better than us, and consequently, of stepping aside, and letting someone else take our place. It also leads one to lie with the intention of justifying or hiding one’s blunders.
It will not be difficult for us to remember some of our leaders, who placed themselves on high pedestals, not realizing their fragility and nothingness before God. Without giving God the first place, our chariots are doomed to break down because they are running without wheels. Unfortunately, the prevailing sad situation of our country is precisely caused by this attitude which is amply seen in many of our leaders.
The second virtue and value our Professor used to lay stress upon, was Gratitude. He insisted upon the importance of gratitude, while adding that gratitude was a virtue the Romans held in high esteem. His story to explain the importance of gratitude was the well-known story of a persecuted Roman Christian, who was running and hiding away from the persecutors of the Christians.
Passing through a thickly wooded jungle, he heard a strange and frightening sound. Wondering what it could be, and frightened, he nonetheless, timidly approached the place where the sound was coming from. He got a start, when he saw a huge lion that appeared to be in great pain, and was crying. Timidly he approached the beast, while at the same time his goodness and pity taking the upper hand. He could see that the king of the jungle was in great pain, and was pleading for help. He approached it, and noticed that a wedge of wood had entered the paw of the animal. The man immediately sensed that the lion was not going to harm him. He bent over, and took the paw of the animal in his hand. Then he gently pulled out the piece of wood from the paw. He could see immediately that the lion was greatly relieved of its pain, as it expressed its relief and gratitude by wagging its tail, and licking his benefactor’s hand. He left the animal, visibly moved by the goodness of the man, while he himself was also moved to pity, and filled with a sense of fulfilment.
Months later, the fugitive Christian was caught by his persecutors, who put him in jail until he would renounce his Christian faith. The man, however, stood firm in his faith in The Lord Jesus, and refused to renounce it. Finally a day came, when he was placed in the open amphitheatre of the Coliseum in Rome, to be a sport for the spectators and to be torn to pieces and eaten by the wild beasts, when they came out of their cages.
All eyes were on the man standing in the middle of the amphitheatre, as a huge lion came rushing towards him to tear him to pieces and to make a meal out of him. The crowd in the Coliseum was sadistically screaming as the lion reached the man. However, they were shocked to see the lion, tamed in a moment, as it fell at the feet of the man, and hugged him with his heavy paws on his shoulders. The sadistically noisy crowd became very quiet. The crowd was stunned!!! The secret was that the hungry and angry lion had recognized his benefactor, who had saved it by removing the wedge of wood which had gone into its paw!!! What a lesson in gratitude!!
Fr. Barreto was happy to teach us the virtue of gratitude learnt from the behaviour of a ferocious animal in the ignominious Coliseum of Rome. Here is why Fr. Barreto held that the virtue of gratitude was considered a very important virtue by the Romans.
As is seen in the story of the lion and the persecuted Christian, animals know to express their gratitude towards their benefactors. The example of the grateful lion is very touching, to say the least. But we have other examples, closer to home, of our pet animals. Don’t the wagging tails of our dogs have a lesson to teach us? All we have to do is keep ourselves open to learning. Nature is an open book, from which to read and learn.
The Covid situation
The Covid situation all over the world and, very specially, in India is very frightening leading people to despair. People are getting infected in millions, and dying in lakhs. It is reported that the Spanish Flu had snuffed the lives of 50 million people. It will not be surprising if Covid does the same, and even overtake those figures. It is hard to believe what the media are reporting to us. India, particularly has become a very sorry part of the history of Covid.
Hundreds of patients are dying in the corridors and verandahs of hospitals and even in the ambulances and vehicles because of the shortage of beds in the hospitals. People are dying because of mismanagement and shortage of oxygen. Unbelievable stories are reported in the media which, however, unfortunately are true without any shadow of a doubt.
Goa, for example, has had about 90 deaths in one government hospital because of mismanagement of oxygen supply. In Bihar and U.P. hundreds of bodies were seen floating in the Ganges river. There are no burial and cremation places. All this, and many more shocking things, when they happen against the backdrop of our leaders blowing their trumpets, with bloated and puffed up chests, saying that India has conquered the Corona virus!!!
India is known to have sold vaccines to the other countries to make a name for itself as the vaccine supplier of the world, but now we are begging for vaccines because we do not have for our people!! And to top it up we hear about corruption and scams happening even at the cost of the dying!! Inflation everywhere, even the grave-diggers and the taxi drivers have jacked up their rates and prices!! One cannot help wondering whether such people have any hearts within their broad chests and consciences within their souls.
Situations like this, unfortunately, become Atheisms weightiest arguments. They can also become the cause of dislike and even hatred for the country and its leaders. There seems to be no organisation and management left. And our leaders were proudly thumping their chests, talking about good governance.
Humility and Gratitude
The chaotic situation in the country points to the fact that we all need to practise the virtues of humility and gratitude. Most of all, it is our leaders who need to learn the lesson that, without humility and gratitude, nobody can be leaders. Therefore, it will be good for those who are in-charge of running the affairs of our country to fall on their knees, praying for forgiveness from God.
Making themselves into ‘Golden calves’, they have taken on the attitude of Lucifer, thinking of themselves as gods. The result is the present sad scenario of our country. No one seems to know how to come out of this situation. Our leaders should also apologize to those who, by voting them in, have given them the power they wield. They must remember that they have been chosen and elected to be the servants of the people to wash their feet, whenever the need arises, and never to lord over them.
When we found ourselves to be in dire straits, more than 40 countries have rushed to our aid. In a sense of gratitude, we would like to see our leaders appear on our T.V. screens and in our Social Media, thanking our benefactors.
It is not enough to thank the powerful ones like USA and Russia. There are other smaller, less powerful countries, who have also generously, come forward to help us. For example there is Pakistan, our neighbour, even though not the best of our friends, they have come forward to help us in our despair. With them there are other countries that have shown their concern for us. It may be a widow’s mite. It would do them and us good to see our Authorities thanking them for the much needed help they gave us. That would be our genuine sign of gratitude. Let us, therefore, move into the chariot, having humility and gratitude as its wheels. And let God be the driver of our chariot.
(Bishop Alex Dias, was Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Port Blair from 1985 to 2019. Currently he is based in Goa)