Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dr. Fr. Thomas Kalayil CMI: A Placid Scholar and a Solid Professor

It was during the Christmas vacation of 1986 that I met two people who became highly influential in my life. One was a priest and the other was a scholastic. For the next three years I continued to have periodical interactions with both of them. Eventually, on June 4, 1989, I joined the CMI congregation at Chethipuzha. By the grace of God, these two gentlemen were there to receive me and to initiate me to religious life. Dr. Fr. Thomas Kalayil and Br. Francis Njallampuzha were my rector and assistant rector respectively, for the next one year. As trainers they were the best ones in the Saint Joseph Province, Thiruvananthapuram of the CMI Congregation could provide us with.

Fr. Dr. Thomas Kalayil CMI
Fr. Dr. Thomas Kalayil CMI
Fr. Thomas Kalayil, for me was a great source of knowledge. During the one year when I was trained under him, I could not think of anything that he could not deliver to me. Until the moment I joined the seminary, I thought my father to be the most knowledgeable person on earth. I corrected my opinion after meeting Fr. Thomas. He could clear all the doubts I had, whatever the magnitude might be. My fascination never ended as everyday he brought surprises.

One day some foreigners visited the monastery. They were with Fr. Thomas when I first met them on the corridors of the Sacred Heart Monastery, Chethipuzha. When I passed them, I heard Fr. Thomas speaking to them in a tongue that I had never heard. I was curious. In the evening, during the daily gathering after supper, my curiosity burst out. I asked Fr. Thomas about the language in which he was conversing with the strangers. “Italian,” he replied. I became more curious. My next question to him was, where he learned Italian. He then told us that he had studied in Rome. From the very next day, several things were revealed to me about this great man who was looking after a bunch of fifteen year olds. He completed his Doctorate in Biblical Theology in May 1973 from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome with the maximum possible grade of Summa Cum Laude Probatus. The title of his doctoral dissertation was Christ’s Work of Redemption according to St. Ephrem. He had reached the Gregorian University in 1965 to complete the Licentiate in Theology. He continued his studies and acquired a second licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the renowned Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome during 1967-69, with the grade Cum Laude Probatus.

Hence, I did not find it strange to believe his fluency in Italian. What astonished me was his mastery in other languages. He taught us Latin from mid year. I came to know that he taught Hebrew, Greek and Syriac as well at various levels in several other place.

Fr. Thomas Kalayil is a formator par excellence. He loved his students as his own. He treated the formees under him as his own children. He used to address us in the same rhythm and melody our parents used to address us, quite often using our pet names. The Johannine construction of Jesus as a loving father to his apostles (John 21:5) was very much exemplified in Fr. Thomas.

During the month of November and December he entrusted us to Fr. Joseph Puthenpura and left for Dharmaram College. This was his plan ever since he took up the rectorship of minor seminary students in the year 1982. We came to know that he was teaching Biblical Theology in Dharmaram College. He lectured Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature and Introduction to Sacred Scripture at Dharmaram College.  I was fortunate enough to attend his lectures in Wisdom Literature, when I was doing my Bachelor’s in Theology in 2002. I remember him always as a placid, jovial and contented scholar.

Immediately after completing the doctoral studies, Fr. Thomas Kalayil was appointed to Dharmaram College. He served Dharmaram College for two terms as a member of the faculty. His first innings was from 1973 to 1982. He came back to Dharmaram in 2007 and continued there till 2017. Between 1982 and 2007, he served Dharmaram College as visiting faculty. During his long tenure of service at Dharmaram College, he held several administrative positions such as that of Academic Secretary (Registrar, 1973-75), Controller of Examinations (1978-81) and Master of Students (1975-82, 2007-2008). Fr. Thomas was always a protective father to the scholastics who were entrusted to him. His students knew him, heard his voice and loved him. (John 10:14, 27) In the entire history of Dharmaram College, among all the Masters of Scholastics, he would ever be remembered among the most popular ones.

Fr. Thomas Kalayil is systematic as a spiritual director. He made sure that he meets his directees periodically. A distinct feature of his spiritual direction is that, he schedules the sessions with the directees well in advance so that none of them misses the mandatory meetings. He keeps the record of all those who are under his spiritual direction. He prays for them regularly. Even when he travels outside for classes, his scheduling made sure that his directees never misses the regular spiritual directions. While living as an aspirant I experienced his spiritual interests and involvements. At Dharmaram, Chethipuza and Mannanam, for several years, he was the one who was giving introduction to the celebration of Raza, the most solemn celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy. When he was our rector, he used to train us in the active participation in the Liturgy. Between 2008 and 2017, as a spiritual director, he guided numerous scholastics in their spiritual discernment.

Fr. Thomas Kalayil has been a much sought after teacher. He has an engaging style of teaching. It was a delight to see him giving lectures. He has a very attractive body language while delivering lectures. He involves everyone to be actively participative. The vast knowledge he has in almost every field makes his classes great. This is the reason why he had invitations from a good number of places for regular classes. He served as a visiting faculty in Kristu Jyoti College (Bangalore), Vidya Deep (Bangalore), Sandesa Nilayam (Changanacherry), Mar Thoma Vidyanikethan (Changanacherry), Amala Theological College (Changanacherry), Missionary Orientation Centre (Kottayam) and Vijnana Nilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion (Eluru, Andhra Pradesh). He treated all his students in a dignified manner.

One of the unavoidable things in the life of a religious is to minister as a superior. In religious life, administration is often considered as penance. In two separate terms for about a total of six years, he was the Vicar Provincial of the St. Joseph Province, Thiruvananthapuram. During his first term, he also served as the Provincial Councillor for education and communication. In the second term, he guided the province in the affairs of evangelization and pastoral ministry. His personal contacts with the then heads of the eparchies helped him to make sure that the relations between the province and the eparchies were cordial and functional. St. Joseph’s Monastery, founded in 1831, is the first monastery of the CMI congregation. It is also known as the mother house of the CMI congregation. He was appointed Prior of St. Joseph’s Monastery, Mannanam in 2002 for three years. His leadership gave the monastic community a newfound vitality. His loving presence and caring attitude attracted people around, to the monastery. He had special care for the supporting staff. His sense of history helped him build a strong network of supporters for the monastery. As an ardent devotee Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara, he took several steps to popularize devotion to him. During the same period, he was also the parish priest of the St. Joseph’s parish at Mannanam.

His administration was not without any hurdles. He had to face one of the tumultuous times in the history of Kuriakose Elias College, Mannanam, while he was its manager. A good number of teachers participated in the state-wide strike of the government employees and teachers. The entire college was almost paralysed. The road between Mannanam Bus Stop and College gate were flooded with posters, placards and supporters of the strike. Fr. Thomas took the leadership in obtaining the High Court order in asserting that the road is a private road of the Monastery. This forced the eviction of the striking staff and removal of posters and placards. He ordered strong action against some of the teachers including a state level leader of the teachers’ organization. Some of these measures helped to clamp down the strike to a certain extent. A usually calm and pleasant Fr. Thomas became fearless fighter for the cause of rights of the Monastery.

Fr. Thomas has deep love and sense of history. It was during his tenure as Prior of the Monastery that a serious attempt was initiated to organize the archives at Manannam to make them more accessible to researchers. He spent a good amount of time in cataloguing the documents in Syriac, Latin etc. He was pulled drawn into another unfinished work during that time. The work towards the compilation of the complete works of the legendary writer and father of St. Thomas Christians, Dr. Placid Podipara, that had begun a couple of years before, was almost moribund by then. As a student of Fr. Placid and a great admirer of him, he took up the daunting task of editing and publishing them. It was a laborious effort on several counts. He had to literally read every line as the number of typos was enormous. The main reason for this was the presence of the numerous theological and historical terms that were not available in the computer dictionary. Word by word, he read, re-read, copyedited the works of Fr. Placid, almost every day. When he completed his term as Prior, he was half way through the editing. However, he didn’t get an opportunity to continue living in the Mannanam monastery after his term was completed. He was transferred to Thiruvananthapuram and then to Thiruvalla. During the next three years, he lived in Thiruvalla with limited facility and mobility. He was without any official assignment during those days. This was a blessing in disguise. He continued and completed the editing work while at Thiruvalla by not just completing the proof reading but by writing authentic and authoritative introductions to each and every work of Fr. Placid. The great works of Fr. Placid are accessible to the whole world now, thanks to Fr. Thomas Kalayil. No one can think of a better person than Fr. Thomas Kalayil for bringing such a magnum opus in five volumes consisting of over 3000 pages. The Church, in particular, that of St. Thomas Christians is perpetually obliged to Fr. Thomas Kalayil for this great accomplishment. I would say, it is an invaluable asset to researchers all across the various fields of theology. This might be one of the greatest theological contributions by the CMI congregation in modern times. As for Fr. Thomas, he had delivered numerous talks on Fr. Placid. He had written on Fr. Placid in several journals and annuals. In the souvenir Placidachan published in 1995 to commemorate the tenth death anniversary of Fr. Placid Podipara, the article titled “The Profile of a Prophet” contributed by Fr. Thomas Kalayil is a much talked about item in scholarly circles. There will not be a disputed in attributing Fr. Thomas Kalayil as the foremost Placid scholar of our time.

Fr. Thomas is a prolific writer. He is one of the few theologians in India who regularly contribute to the development of theology in the vernacular. His articles on the Bible, biblical themes and Church History were appearing frequently for decades in the periodicals such as Biblebhashyam, Mathavum Chinthayum, Karmelakusumam and Kathiroli, etc. In Kathiroli alone, more than 100 articles were published which were much appreciated by the laity, religious and clerics. Fr. Thomas also had contributed to the theological journals such as Asian Horizons, Christian Orient and Jeevadhara. In many of the bulletins and annuals too, he contributed regularly. It might be another mammoth task for anyone to collect all the works of Fr. Thomas Kalayil. He is a solid professor with content and delivery.

During his youth, he was part of the great initiative of the translation of Peshitha to Malayalam. He collaborated as translator and General Editor in the publication of a new Malayalam translation of the New Testament from Mannanam in 1978, which many scholars consider as one of the best Malayalam translations of the New Testament theologically and literarlly.

He is on the committee of the members of Dharmaram College who are preparing its history. Fr. Thomas has a collection of a host of rare documents. Added to this is his memory about events and persons. Several of the chapters of the history including the introduction have heavy contributions from Fr. Thomas Kalayil. During the various rounds of the meetings of the history committee, his adaptability was very visible. Fr. Thomas is communitarian to the core. He thoroughly enjoyed the semestral outings of the staff members. He makes sure that he cancels all his programmes to take part in community activities. Although a man of conviction and courage, he never tried to insist that his views are the final ones. In several theological and related controversies, he always stood for the common good.

In December 1989, he celebrated his Silver Jubilee of Priestly Ordination. His mother, Birgitta was fortunate to take part in the jubilee celebrations. His father Joseph belonged to the noble family of Kalayil from Koonamthanam, Chethipuzha, Changanassery. He was born on August 18, 1937. His primary education was at St. Anne’s (Convent) School, Changanacherry during 1943-48. Later he continued his school studies until the Secondary at St. Berchmans English High School, Changanacherry.

In 1955 he was admitted to the Mary Immaculate Minor Seminary, Mannanam. In the very next year, he was trained at Mary Queen’s Minor Seminary, Mutholy. His novitiate and juniorate were at Sacred Heart Monastery, Chethipuzha during 1957-1959. On May 16, 1958, he became a professed religious. He reached Dharmaram College in 1959 for his ecclesiastical studies. During the historical Eucharistic Congress at Bombay where for the first time a Roman Pontiff, Pope Paul VI, visited India, he was ordained priest on December 1, 1964.

The octogenarian Fr. Thomas Kalayil belongs to a rare galaxy of the priests in India who contributed extensively to theological literature. His type of persons is a rarity. The life and times of Fr. Thomas Kalayil remind every CMI priest to respond positively to the talents each one is bestowed with. Fr. Thomas used to get up very early in the morning. His usual day begins with morning meditation and the Holy Qurbana. He then reaches the chapel at 6 AM, to take part in the morning prayers along with the community. Then he goes back to his room for academic work. This routine gives him sufficient time to read and write. The vast collection of books, articles and documents he has in his room are not just decorations and space fillers but are accreditations and mind chillers of his scholarship. Living with him, studying under him and knowing him for almost three decades, I can undoubtedly say that his veins contain the true blue blood of holiness and scholarship, like that of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Emmanuel Andumalil, Bernard Alencheril, Placid Podipara, Mathias Mundadan, et al.

(Published in Ascend to Holiness(ISBN 978-93-84964-92-4), Dharmaram Publications, pp. 1-8, 2018)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ants in my room

Ants are organized insects.
They march in a line
beside a wall or on a natural line
thus always taking a path the shortest.
They commute between their nest and lust.
They greet everyone on the move.
They make way for everyone on the move.
On their way, no one they ever hit.
Some take quick diversions for quicker surveys
and then join back to the line.
For, if they miss the line, they die in pain.
On their diversions they find items new.
The surveyors survey the new items taking time
Until they're back taking longer paths but in time.
Back in the line they communicate
the fresh discovery and the fresh mandate.
Surveyors continue to move ahead
Not claiming their role in the discovery.
Antenna to antenna, the news is spread
by rants and chants, to reach the discovery.
One, two, three, five, eight, thirteen...
The new found item is surrounded.
Discussion, Planning, Execution...
Even an elephant is sliced and carried.

Workers work. Surveyors survey.
Ants continue to work until their last sleep.
Ants don't starve since they work.
Ants aren't obese since they work.
Ants don't complain since they work.
Ants aren't alone since they work.
Ants work in group for the group.
They worked yesterday.
They work now and tomorrow
as they rest only for their final rest.
Ants aren't idle
and they find no reason to be idle.
Night or day, they work
as they work in group.
Dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn
ants work until they reach their dusk.
Ants work until they work no more.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Sound of Cry

Why do we cry?
When we're sad,
Or when glad?
Shy, after we cry?
When we're floppy,
Or when happy?
A wet cry for a debt.
A dry cry for a doubt.
We cry at a loss,
At a toss or pass.
A shy cry at times
A wry cry some times.
A cry for a gain,
A cry for a pain.
A cry in vain,
A cry in bane.
Cry washes pain,
Ashes gain.
Cry vanishes
And banishes bane.
A cry in pain
Is a rain in the dry.
Drops of tears
Are hopes of flair.
Cry in silence
Is a cry of sacrifice.
Cry sends
signals of pains.
Cry cleanses
the stains of lives.
Tears form deluge
that tears life apart.
Fear of tears is part
of life of fears and tears.
Cry in, cry out
Cry in need.
A child cries in need
The old cries of deed.
Mother knows
when a child cries,
For why it cries.
When mother cries,
Even her eyes know not.
The cry of the old
Is fun for the less old.
But for the old
any cry is a cry.

One cries at birth
Others cry at death.
The wise cries under cover
The wicked in open.
The wise cries for solutions
The wicked for problems.
Cry is the end of reason
Cry ends reason
Cry comes from many things
Cry goes to many things.
From where it comes
To where it goes,
Not even the wisest knows.

A deep cry leads to solutions
A shallow cry to re-cries.
Origin of cry?
Cry begins before the cry.
Cry ends before the end.
What is it?
Cry needs a trigger
Cry takes both the eyes.
Cry is not one-eyed
Am I the trigger of a cry?
Woe to me, if so!
Can I stop a cry?
Bliss to me, always!
Listen to cries
To the cry within
To the cry outside
To the cry everywhere.

What is cry?
A primitive feeling
But perfected too.
Cry is an expression
of a pressing matter
expressed through
the press of the precious eyes
creating symmetric streams
of the cleanest water
yet the hardest,
by an unknown chemical reaction
from a mysterious source
for a finite time
submerging even the mightiest.
It converted the strong,
melted the hard,
felled the valiant and
stopped the villains.
It's mysterious.
It's hysteric, delirious
And nefarious
Although it's melodious.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Years passed by
Fears gone away
Quest for life made me
Priest for life

Whose choice it was?
Choice! What a fuss!
Boss of my life
Chose my life

Why was I?
High 'bove many,
Way 'bove plenty...

A walk
Long walk
Indeed, not
A gawk.

Made me bent but
Never broke my gut
Forced me beg
Chased 'way my bugs
Stretched me but
Strangled me not
Soaked me in blood
Baked me but food good
Presented me miserable
Prized me but invaluable

Go on
on and on
my boss
Love thee.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

​Lessons learnt from here and there

1. Power and Wealth are not the last words

J Jayalalithaa was a powerful Chief Minister. She was a powerful person in life. Nobody could stand straight in her presence.
However, during the last several months of her life, she was undergoing severe suffering. It was more than one can get from an Indian prison for politicians. Many belive that she was killed by her own people. It is worse than capital punishment. Her power and wealth couldn't save her life from an unnatural mysterious death... Her death was not like any of the endings of her films.
It's a lesson to learn. Let us do good things. Even if we suffer, then there is a merit in it.

2. Judge not

What lesson can we learn from these persons?
1. Justice John Michael Cunha found some people guilty.
2. Justice C R Kumaraswamy acquitted them.
3. Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy annulled the acquittal.

Logically, all the above judgements are not true. Hence, who is the real culprit: a criminal or one who misuses the power to help criminals escape and crimes to flourish?
We are helpless when we heard their judgments of naming white black, then black white and then white black.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Similarly judgement leaked is judgement sneaked. An influenced judgement is a crime...

3. Succession plan is a myth

No leader paves way for another leader as leadership is one of the most enjoyable pleasure. It is way above money and sex. One who enjoys power will never think of someone else stepping into one's shoes. Successor emerges by successful strategies.

4. India is a land of wonders

Here in our motherland,

  • A person of humble origin can be the emperor one day. Royalty is not mandatory to success.
  • Human beings venerate and respect non-human beings and inanimate things more than human beings themselves.
  • One can the richest in the land by theft alone.
  • One can live in a prison but still can enjoy freedom. One is free, but still can be someone's captive.
  • We convert prison to a spa and a spa to a prison.
  • It is strange to see that the MPs and MLAs who are elected by people by secret ballot have no right to elect their leader by secret ballot.
  • Spiritual leaders can convert water to wine, urine to saccharin, ash to cash and shit to asset.

5. We are not extraordinary

Our memory is weak. Our actions can be influenced. We are a people who can be easily provoked and many a time misguided. It has antecedents in the history.

Brutus was a hero. After a few hours he became a zero. People turned against him.
Jesus was a hero. After a few days he became a zero. People crucified him.

Sasikala was a hero. After a few months she became a zero.
There are many other heroes here. After a few years they surely will become zeros.

Individually all of us are brilliant and intelligent. Collectively, I am not sure what we are...

Saturday, February 04, 2017

I am a born teacher

I love teaching; for
the taught to have thoughts
the nots to have notes
the sought to be wrought.
Can I be a teacher?
When I have 
the right thoughts
of the knowledge about 
the thing of things;
the right notes
of the ones 
who walked ahead,
who flow with me and
who race behind;
wrought myself
of the unformed clay
who wanted to be unformed
who wants to be untouched and
who loves the status quo,
I am a teacher.
I am a born teacher
as everyone born is a student.

Develop a skeleton for each day

One has to develop one's own habit of writing. One important  characteristic of habit is that one may not realize what one does in a hab...