Cyril Desbruslais

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Cyril Desbruslais
Cyril desbruslais.jpg
Cyril Desbruslais, S.J.
Born 21 December 1940
Calcutta
Society of Jesus

History of the Jesuits
Regimini militantis
Suppression

Jesuit Hierarchy
Superior General
Adolfo Nicolás

Ignatian Spirituality
Spiritual Exercises
Ad majorem Dei gloriam
Magis

Notable Jesuits
St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Francis Xavier
St. Peter Faber
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Peter Canisius
St. Edmund Campion
Pope Francis

Cyril Desbruslais (born 21 December 1940, Calcutta) is an Indian Jesuit priest, Professor of Philosophy at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, India, and an accomplished playwright.[1]

Family background and early life[edit]

He was born in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India, on 21 December 1940. He was named Cyril, after his Dad, just as his sister, born two years later, was named Maisie, after his Mum. Another sister, Marina, was born two years later. She was to die of TB at the age of eighteen months. Says Desbruslais, "She has always been my little baby intercessor in heaven. Mum and Dad died, also of TB, in the early 1950s (it was a fatal illness, in those days). We were brought up by a very loving Uncle (my Mum's brother)." Desbruslais was schooled, at first in Calcutta, with the Jesuits (St Xavier's), then with the Irish Christian brothers (in a boarding school, Asansol) and he enjoyed his five years with them. He almost joined them, but thought better of it. He did his Bachelor of Commerce at St Xavier's College (Calcutta) and worked for a year at Remington Rand of India. Desbruslais was inspired to join the Society of Jesus. He had a Jesuit Uncle, Fr Vernon Desbruslais SJ, and perhaps his personality and the love everyone had for his gentle ways of service had some impact on him, which he did not notice at the time. He had been, off and on, considering being a priest, which he used to brush aside. But from 1962, the whole question began to bug him so, that he decided to give it a try.[2] He joined the Society as they were the only Catholic priests he really knew In retrospect, Desbruslais is glad that he entered the Society. He says, "I don't think I'd have lasted very long anywhere else. The Jesuits, for all their stress on obedience, give plenty of scope for creativity and initiative." He has influenced countless young people, including Shashi Tharoor, former Minister of External Affairs,[3] and General Shankar Roychowdhury, former Chief of the Army Staff.[4]

His Inspiration[edit]

Apart from St Ignatius of Loyola, Pedro Arrupe SJ inspired Desbruslais most. As Desbruslais puts it,"He helped the Society come alive for me. He taught me about the inseparable link between faith and justice. He was a true contemplative in action. He was able to meet this charismatic personality twice, when he visited DNC and one of my treasured possessions is a book with his signature in it. Just to re-read one of his writings (especially "On Our Way of Proceeding") fires me with enthusiasm and fervor all over again." He is also deeply impressed by Adolfo Nicolás SJ, whom he met before he became General, at the "Asian Identity Seminar" in Delhi and who reminds him in so many ways of Arrupe. Nicolas has an infectious joy and sense of commitment. Desbruslais is also influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, who taught him about the holiness of matter and the divine milieu.

Searching in Service and Unity[edit]

He started the group "Searching in Service and Unity" (SSU)[5] in 1971, when he was beginning his Theology studies at De Nobili College, Pune, India. Since he had faced a lot of problems and confusion in his own youth, he wanted to help other youngsters not to make the mistakes and blunders he did. He wanted to reach out especially to youngsters who normally don't feel drawn to join any youth groups, who seemed to be interested only in "freaking out" and drifting along. He also wanted to set up an inter-denominational youth group, one made up of young people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. "And I wanted us to celebrate our differences, not just sweep them under the carpet and so we had inter-faith celebrations of our major feasts". Finally he wanted to help youngsters to develop a deep social sense, a sense of responsibility and concern for the poor, the deprived and all victims of injustice, in our country and all over the world – and do something about it. In the SSU there are Outreach programmes where they collaborate with Institutions doing this kind of work (mainly with NGOs). The group also stages an annual play (usually written by him) with a social message, giving youngsters to discover and develop her talents.The lion's share of the profits go to the NGO concerned. Yes, the group is now 42 years old (2013) and had a three day Ruby Anniversary Celebration of this in December 2011, with SSU members from over the years (many of whom have their own teenage children following in their footsteps into the SSU). They meet once on Sundays (a one hour's fun and games session, followed by a one hour of creativity or personality development) after the Catholics - with more than a little help from some of the non-Christians! - have animated the 5.30 Sunday evening Mass at the Jesuit parish of St Xavier's in Pune, Camp. Then there are the regular Outreaches, the Annual one week leadership training Camp, at Kune, besides the yearly fund-raiser dramatic venture.[6]

His Philosophy of Life?[edit]

In an interview given to DNC Times, he put it succinctly: "I suppose it's to help all people become more fully human, more fully alive. That would also imply recognizing that beauty is unity in diversity. Unity without diversity is uniformity, and that's boring; diversity without beauty is jarring and garish, and that's ugly.[7] We, the so-called clergy, must be prepared to do a little more listening and learning and a good deal less talking and teaching. Each of us can learn how to better and appreciate our faith and culture more by being more open to, and learning from, the views of others.[8]

Celebrating 50 years of his Jesuit life at De Nobili College, Pune, India, one of the largest Jesuit communities in the world

Philosophy of Liberation[edit]

He was exposed to liberation theology during his Theology studies (1971–1974) at JDV and was deeply moved by it. As Gustavo Gutiérrez had put it, liberation theology is not a mere re-hashing of the old doctrinal theses with a new emphases, as in Jürgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope, for instance. Rather, liberation theology is a radically new hermeneutic – "a theologising from the underside of the boot." If other contemporary Western theologians, like Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx and Avery Dulles weren't exactly wearing the oppressor's boot that trod down the poor, they certainly did not share the situation of the oppressed. Now it is oppressed people ("under the boot") who are enunciating a theology, from their oppressed perspective. And that is a totally new way of looking at things.[9][not in citation given (See discussion.)] And wasn't the Bible addressed primarily to them?[10][not in citation given (See discussion.)] But, one might ask, "Could such uneducated, illiterate and dehumanised people theologise at all?"uneducated, illiterate and dehumanised people theologise[speculation?] Yes, affirms Paolo Freire.[citation needed] No matter how brain-washed into considering themselves as unimportant, brutish and ignorant such people were - for however many centuries - they WERE still capable (with a little help) to critique their situation, to give new definitions ("names") to reality and initiate startlingly new praxis (action-plans as the fruit of critico-reflection). And Ernesto Cardenal's The Gospel According to Solentiname was proof of this.[according to whom?] Desbruslais devoured the latters volumes and was convinced.

Around about this time (1975), an International Synod of Bishops, inspired by Medellin,[who?] spoke of the inseparable link between authentic faith and action for justice. General Congregation XXXII of the Society of Jesus put it more forcefully when it spoke of the "inseparable link" between faith formation and building up God's kingdom (action for justice, again). And then there was Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, the man who helped put the Society of Jesus back on its radical path again. He was convinced that this was the way to live out the Christian, Jesuit way of life in today's world.

But, it suddenly dawned on him that liberation theology, however fine and noble and biblical an endeavour it may be, was irrelevant to Asia in general and India in particular, precisely because it was a Biblical endeavour:[citation needed] it took inspiration from the Bible and was inspired by the mission of Moses, the Old Testament prophets and finally, the greatest and most striking prophet of them all, Jesus - a man, THE man, more than a man.[attribution needed] But India is 98.5% non-Christian, so liberation theology would be able to galvanize, at most a minute 1 1/2%[attribution needed] of our people for faith-inspired action for justice. What about the others? One could, of course, try to elaborate a separate liberation theology for Hindus, based on the Gita (as some Indian freedom fighters had done, during the struggle for Independence - or other Hindu Holy Books), a liberation theology for Muslims, based on the Koran (as Ashgar Ali Engineer and some brave young radicals in Iran are doing) ... but that would only divide us up again! What we need is united action for justice and liberation by ALL Indians, inspired with a common vision. And this common vision could NOT be the Holy Book of one religion, but a shared understanding of the human person. However, in this post-modern age, all talk of anything like a common human nature was considered to be foolish, if not a pipe dream, to say the least.[weasel words] After all, the colonials had fallen into the rut of peddling the dominant qualities of their oppressive group as THE human characteristics: adult, male, white, Christian (and they had scant respect for people or cultures which were not distinguished by these attributes).

Yet, it seemed to him, we must, through dialogue, establish some sort of common base for this or we'd have no grounds for praise or blame, there'd be no real criterion to challenge white supremacism or the caste system.[according to whom?] So he dialogued with people (common people, youth of all religions and their families, from his youth group, and all over the country and abroad, not forgetting to talk over controversial issues with academics and University professors, too). And he eventually formulated an understanding of "common human nature, adequately understood" (the phrase is from the medieval Francisco Suárez SJ and listed the following four conditions for considering a being human: embodiedness, a social dimension, rootedness in the world and a capacity for transcendence (the ability to go beyond the space-time boundaries). Thus it is not absolutely necessary to believe in God or be religious to be fully human; but one must be, at least, spiritual and open to transcendence.[11]

The content of his reflections, carried on at a critical academic level were tested in his ministry among youth and older people of all religions and none and further tested by action-reflection in our work among quarry-workers, street children, prostitutes and their offspring, slum-dwellers, etc. Like Plato and some existential thinkers, he presented a more popular form of his liberation philosophy in over 20 plays,[according to whom?] written by him and enacted by youngsters of all creeds and communities for over 40 years, mainly in Pune. Some have been adapted and staged in Mumbai, Hyderabad and other parts of the world. And the work still goes on.

Books[edit]

  • Desbruslais, Cyril (1989). Interpretations of transcendence. Pune: Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth. OCLC 34670453. 
  • Desbruslais, Cyril (1997). Pandikattu, Kuruvilla, ed. The philosophy of the human person: an introduction to philosophical anthropology. JDV text book series 2 (2nd ed.). Pune: Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth. OCLC 65417894. 
  • Desbruslais, Cyril (1997). Pandikattu, Kuruvilla, ed. The philosophy of be-ing: introduction to a metaphysics for today. JDV text book series 3 (2nd ed.). Pune: Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth. OCLC 65417895. 
  • Desbruslais, Cyril (2012). Röttig, Paul F., ed. Unser Vater: Gespräche mit Gott im Osten und Westen [Daddy darling: talks with God in East and West] (in German). Perchtoldsdorf, DE: Plattform. ISBN 978-3-9503295-0-6. 

Plays[edit]

Desbruslais has written and directed yearly plays with relevant social themes. With more than 25 stage plays on themes as diverse as nuclear disarmament, globalisation, terrorism, capitalism and consumerism and religious dogma to his credit, Desbruslais believes that theatre enlightens and changes mindsets, attitudes and prejudices. "Through the messages embedded in our plays, SSU is promoting out-of-the-box thinking among the young and is abating — if not removing — hatred that's making us all such violent beings," he says.[12] Some of his plays are:

  • Even to the Indies
  • No, No, Jeremiah
  • The Seven Spanish Devils
  • Adam and Eve
  • The Impossible Dream (1971)

References[edit]