|January 21, 2013 • VOL. 51, NO. 2 • Oakland, CA|
Priest's book offers a little something for the journey
If you are a parishioner at St. James the Apostle in Fremont, you may look forward to finding in the weekly bulletin a 24-line poem written by the pastor. Father Antony Vazhappilly has gathered a year's worth of these poems, along with questions and reflections, to help guide readers beyond his parish on their own spiritual journeys. Father Vazhappilly, who recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of his ordination, answered some questions about the book, and his poetry, asked by Catholic Voice staff writer Michele Jurich.
"Songs for A Spiritual Journey" was coincidentally released at a time when the memories of the Connecticut tragedy, where innocent children were gunned down, are fresh in the minds of people. On Dec. 23, during the book-signing ceremony, Lorna Deitz, regional chair for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, asked me how this book could address the parents of those innocent children.
No words or books are adequate to console those parents and relatives who mourn the premature death of their children, which has left a permanent scar in their hearts. As people of faith, we can take consolation in the presence of God, even amid such sorrow. My book may contribute to some measure of relief and hope that guides people away from despair, by pointing to the One who has conquered death, in whom all hope rests: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is my hope that by dwelling on the presence of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and by asking Our Lady of Sorrows to guide us away from this vale of tears by leading us to her Son, those who are most directly affected will eventually be able to move their thoughts and hearts beyond the tragedy, realizing that one day, He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
While my heart goes out to the families of these innocent children, I cannot help thinking of the young man, apparently raised in a rather good family. I have more questions than answers. One of his own companions described him to be a genius. What drove him to this heinous crime? What are the messages this young man and others like him are sending to the world? To me there is only one message: spiritual poverty.
In general, the human soul has been undernourished. In the name of secularism, man has established materialism as his god. As our body is nourished by food, our soul must be nurtured by spiritual food. You are what you read. Reading a spiritual book is one of the best ways we can nourish our souls. "Songs for a Spiritual Journey" will be wonderful spiritual nourishment. Today our children do not read any spiritual books because they are too busy with computer games and smartphones. I would like my readers to spend one week reading and meditating on each chapter. Unless we digest and assimilate what we read, we do not become what we read. A spiritual journey is a lifelong experience. We can never take vacations from this journey. If our life is rooted and founded on God and His Word, and we are able to remain connected to Him, we will find true and lasting joy and peace in our lives. Guns without God can be dangerous. Education without God may lead us astray. Wealth and riches without God may make us falsely believe we are equal to God. The desire to become equal to God caused Adam and Eve to lose paradise. We must remember that we can never be bigger than Him.
How are you inspired to write the poems? Do they emerge full form?
Writing poetry comes quite naturally to me today. English is my third language, which I first began to learn at the age of 16 when I joined the seminary. I started writing poems for fun after I was ordained a priest. Today, as a pastor, I write a poem with my reflections every week for the parish bulletin. Normally I focus on the Sunday Gospels. Once I think of a theme, writing a poem is very easy and fast. Once I write the first line, the rest flows very easily. In the beginning I do not always have a clear picture of how a particular poem will end, but arrive at a complete form through inspiration, and am always happy when it is complete. I always write them with rhyme and meter, typically employing 24 lines. As a Salesian priest in the order founded by Don Bosco, devotion to Mary Help of Christians was of principal importance during my years in formation. The feast is celebrated on May 24 every year, but every 24th of the month is a special day dedicated to her. Hence the number 24 became a special number for me.
How can people obtain copies of the book?
Initially the book will be available for ordering through St. James the Apostle. However, my goal is to make the books available in all the parishes of the diocese, through the generous assistance of the Knights of Columbus, Couples for Christ, Legion of Mary and other wonderful groups who have been inspired to help.
Are there more "songs" awaiting another volume?
If everything goes as planned, the next volume will be released before Christmas 2013.
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