Pondicherry Archdiocese

Caged Bird!

“The free bird thinks of another breeze… but the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.” This is from the master piece poem, ‘Caged Bird’, written in 1983 by Maya Angelou, extending this metaphor for the African American community’s past and on-going experience of race-based oppression in the United States in particular, and can also be read as portraying the experience of any oppressed group.

As we ‘celebrate’ in this month of August the twin-feasts of India’s freedom and splendid freedom of Our Blessed Mother in her Assumption, it is pertinent to think how we are ‘caged birds,’ crippled with various wounds of slavery: the Israelites were caged birds in Babylonian slavery (Ps 137:4), while Paul grieved that he was “sold to slavery under sin” (Rom 7:14-15).

Socio-political Cages!

Freedom, often, is disfigured and distorted. Fearing exposition of the cruelty of the powerful regime, the cry of the suffering throat is crushed through draconic laws. BBC reported (1 April 2021) that the military coup in Myanmar, besides killing thousands of Rohingya, jailed the civilian leaders, in order to cover up the genocide, which caused now (3 July) burning of the portrait of Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and staging of mock funerals. Similar socio-political uprisings are painful realities all over the world. In this case, both the oppressor and the oppressed become ‘caged birds.’ Take the case of Saul who, filled with jealousy of David, wanted to kill him. But both were mentally tormented (1Sam 20: 23-24) and thus both were caged birds.

True, the extremists and the fundamentalists make us caged birds, although, recent research shows that most Indians, cutting across religions, feel they enjoy religious freedom, value religious tolerance, and regard respect for all religions as central to what India is as a nation (The Hindu 30, June 2021). One who dreams that he/she is free to do anything, regardless of cognizance of others, is a caged bird, ending in total ruin to him/herself, as in the case of the rich fool (Lk 12:19-21). Those who make cages for minorities, weaker sections of society, people seeking asylum, or those who indulge in sexual abuse forget the words of the Seer: “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come” (Rev 18:10 cf. v.17,19).Yet another factor of this caged life is very much prevalent in this pandemic era in which many, mostly youngsters, are becoming caged birds of ‘checking and scrolling through’ social media, resulting in behavioural addiction to the Self.

I am a Caged Bird!

Kamala Suraiyya Das (My Story, 2009) says: “I am sinner, I am saint.” True, sin is the cage in which all humans are grilled. Our first parents, induced by greed, chose to live in a sinful cage (Gen 3:6-7), and as a result, every one of us is in the same boat (Rom 5:12). Paul would lament: “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). Someone said that we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Besides this reality, some enjoy harming others by their own egoism, selfishness, arrogance and so on. People who are addicted to their sensual weakness, selfish interests or undue attachments to persons, things and money are all caged birds, without knowing how to rid themselves of these misfortunes. Some feel no compunction to mistreat women or the disabled, thus making them caged birds; but they do not realize that they, by doing so, become caged birds themselves, caught up in distress. St. Augustine rightly wrote: “I will declare and confess to your name, O Lord, how you delivered me out of the bonds of carnal desire by which I was bound most firmly, and out of slavery to worldly things” (Confessions, Bk. 6).

Cages are Broken!

Our Blessed Mother, with her firm ‘fiat,’ became a free bird; her total trust in God’s providence rewarded her with the heavenly gift of Assumption. Pope Francis, in his homily on 29 June, 2021, very clearly explained how Peter and Paul became apostles and ministers of freedom for others. Peter was a caged bird with bitterness of frustration and failure (Lk 5:5), yielding to fear (Mt 14:30), but he was set free by Jesus (Mt 16:19). So also, Paul, a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence (1 Tim 1:13) became a free bird through his life in Christ Jesus who set him free from the law of sin and death (cf. Rom 8:2-3). He became free of himself (Phil 3:8) and free to proclaim the Gospel: “I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news” (Rom 15:20). When Pope Francis, in the line of Zacchaeus (Lk 19), openly admitted “I am a sinner” he is the man of freedom. We often forget the emphatic words of Jesus: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34) but the same Jesus tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32); Jesus is the Truth!