Karnataka Jesuits

Provincial's Musings

Recently, I happened to read the life story of St Jose’ de Anchieta, a Portuguese Jesuit, called the apostle of Brazil, co-founder of two cities of Brazil, father of Brazilian literature. Think of a field of art or science he is there standing tall. I believe that he can be a model for us to live our own life and mission well.

It is interesting to note that he came to Brazil by accident. In his youth he dislocated his spine, which had left him with a curved spine and in constant pain. He was sent to Brazil for its mild climate in the hope that his back would improve. It never did. Nevertheless, he worked for 44 years despite constant acute pain. In fact, it did disturb him initially. It is the words of Fr Simón Rodrigues, founder of the Portuguese Province: “Do not be sad about that deformation. God loves you that way” not only consoled him but even made him say: ... My physical condition is weak, but the strength of grace is enough for me, which on God’s part will never fail.” And thanks to God’s grace throughout his missionary travels, Anchieta walked everywhere. He did not allow himself to be carried in nets or ride on a horse.

Arriving in Brazil in 1553, Anchieta worked tirelessly for the indigenous people he came to know and love. He fought to protect them from the institution of slavery. He taught them to read and write, sing and pray through attractive songs. He drew on the art form of drama as a means of inculcating Christian teachings. His most famous literary work was the Latin mystic poem of 4,172 lines, De beata virgine dei matre Maria (“The Mother of God Blessed Virgin Mary”), which he wrote, primarily to cope with loneliness, on wet sand on the seashore and then committing them to memory.

In addition to being a poet, Anchieta was also a fine historian and observer. He learned also the pharmacological use of various herbs and plants. He was also a remarkable ethnologist and a naturalist, writing respectively on the culture and customs of various Indian tribes and the flora and fauna of Brazil.

In addition to many miracles in the field of literature and ethnography, science and medicine, there are also other miracles ascribed to him. The birds and the fishes, water and illness used to listen to him. What is the secret of his greatness? To fellow missionaries, he used to write: burning desire is not enough: “You must come with a bag-full of virtues.” That is why when he was asked to choose any place to spend the last years of his life, he refused the offer and said: ‘… it is now 42 years that I left the free disposition of myself in the hand of my superiors’. Is not Anchieta inspiring?

  With the story of the Epiphany, we have a clear-cut task for the New Year 2020. It is to discover Jesus who is very much present in the ordinary things. To guide our way we need to allow the celestial signs to guide us. Once we meet him, the result is simple: we find a new pathway. In this context, we need to ask a few questions: Do we make efforts to discover Jesus in ordinary things? Do we encounter Jesus? What are the means we use to see Jesus?  

Recently, I read a book, ‘Good to Great’, by Jim Collins. It is basically a study of the companies that moved from being good to being great. What guides a company to greatness is its leadership, people with a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.  

According to Jim, "good is the enemy of great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools". In this context he speaks of the "Hedgehog Concept", a core component of his book, which is based on an ancient Greek parable that states, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Hedgehog is a small mammal with a spiny coat and short legs, able to roll itself into a ball for defence. No matter what the fox does it fails, because of the one important defensive skill of the hedgehog.  

The hedgehog concept has three important dimensions: 1. what you can be best at in the world, 2. what drives your economic engine, and 3. what you are deeply passionate about.   

The New Year invites us to discover and develop our Hedgehog Concept, one thing that we are very good at, what drives our engine, and what we are passionate about. Shall we, as the Magi did, try to seek and find, amidst all difficulties, our hedgehog, our core, Jesus, who will guide our life and mission from good to great, or as Ignatius would say, for the greater glory of God?

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