Radiate Mercy and Goodness
The ‘Dussehra’ festival was celebrated in most parts of India, with traditional pomp and gaiety. Also known as ‘Vijayadashami’, this important Hindu festival, underscores the triumph of good over evil. Later in the evening, the effigy of ‘Ravan’ the many-headed demon went up in flames in the famous Ramlila grounds of Delhi and in several other locations all across the country. ‘Ravan’ is symbolic of all that is evil and the burning of this demon is basically an act of purification and renewal. Unfortunately, like most religious festivals, the cosmetics hold sway; most easily forget that a festival like ‘Dussehra’ beside the many rituals associated with it, should also be a watershed moment for all, to help build a society in which goodness is enhanced.
St. Pope John XXIII, almost sixty years ago, showed the world practical ways of being good. He was fondly referred to as the ‘Good Pope’ and today the Catholic Church universally celebrated his feast day. He was born into a rather ordinary agricultural family; he was simplicity personified, warm and loving. John XXIII was a surprise choice as Pope and many believed that he was elected as a ‘caretaker’. As Pope, he convoked the historic Second Vatican Council which set the Catholic Church on the path of reform. In 1963, he gave to the world his path-breaking Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ (Peace on Earth), in which he emphatically stated that the four essential conditions for establishing universal peace are Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty.
For the Muslims, the first day of ‘Ashura’ began today (11 Oct) and continues tomorrow (October 12th). It is the tenth day of the first month of Muharram, which is their second holiest month after Ramadan. For Sunni Muslims, it is a day on which they commemorate the liberation of Moses and the Israelites from the despotic rule of the Pharaoh of Egypt; it also marks the day on which Noah left the Ark after forty days of torrential rains and floods. It is also believed that since the Prophet Muhammad noticed Jews fasting on this ‘Day of Atonement’ he decided that he and his followers would do likewise. For Shia Muslims however, it is observed differently; it is a solemn day on which they mourn the martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet, in Karbala. Fasting and physical acts of penance (like self-flagellation) mark the day.
‘Yom Kippur’ (the Day of Atonement), is for the Jews, the holiest day of the year after the Sabbath. The day focuses on atonement and repentance. Most Jews, observe this day with rigorous fasting and intensive prayer. ‘Yom Kippur’ which began at sunset this evening will conclude only at nightfall tomorrow, more than twenty-five hours later. It is a time to look back at the sins of the past year, ask God for forgiveness and the strength to imbibe his mercy and goodness.
Few of us realize that the major religious traditions of the world have great similarities. The fact that there is an extra dose of coincidence this year, is sign enough that the God we believe in – is telling us that much more is expected from us. We all need to fast and do acts of penance. They could certainly help in atonement, in the process of purifying ourselves, in the burning and purging of evil that often overcomes us. True faith, however, demands much more. We have to go beyond the rituals and the meaningless observances. Genuine atonement will bring about transformation.
This transformation will be seen in visible and concrete acts: we have stop killing; we have to stop our wars and conflicts; we have stopped all discrimination and divisiveness; we have to respect and guarantee the legitimate rights of all: especially the excluded, the marginalised, the subalterns, the voiceless, the women and children, the refugees and the IDPs, those who want to have no homeland, those who are differently oriented. Today we are invited to remember the words of Pope John XXIII, who says that we need peace on earth; but this will only happen if when we first create an environment of truth, justice, charity and liberty- for all. God tells us through his prophets, “I desire mercy, not your sacrifices”. On these holy days let us mainstream mercy and goodness in our lives and do our best to radiate it tangibly and everywhere!
About Author: Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is an Indian Jesuit priest and a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.