St. Gonsalo Garcia: A Non-Hagiographic Positive Psychology Case Study

By Subhasis Chattopadhyay –

Each saint, each holy person’s life is a therapeutic intervention (sic) in our lives. Each intervention is another chance given by God to us for living holistic lives; because if truth be told, God does not need us, but we need God and therefore God keeps intervening in our lives in tangible ways ad infinitum. The intervention I refer to here is the new science of positive psychology which being positive and good cannot but come from God.

Martin Seligman

Positive psychology is a clinically proven and effective self-administered intervention: I refer here to the empirical work done by Martin Seligman (1942-). Seligman shows through his own research that our lives are not to be seen through deterministic models informed by psychoanalysis and other pop-psychological interventions. Seligman’s new model is pro-active wherein the individual has self-mastery leading to holiness.

Ordinarily, most people can serve God only when they are both mentally and physically well. Positive psychology improves both mental and physical fitness, thus readying us for the service of God A Saint’s Feast Day or hagiography means nothing if that Saint’s life does not change and impact our lives radically in the here and the now. St. Gonsalo Garcia (1557 -1597 AD) is such an interventionalist in our lives: he continues to influence us in India by showing us the power of grit and resilience to the point of self-sacrifice.

Gonsalo Garcia was rejected by the Jesuits of his time because he is (sic) an Indian. The Indian diaspora of all religions thus know Garcia as one of them. Yet unlike many, he did not become bitter about the racism of the Jesuits in India of his times. He positively intervened in his own life and became a successful merchant. He had enough resilience and positivity in him to not give in to depression at being mistreated by white men of his own religion during his lifetime. Thus, to me a Hindu, he illustrates Seligman’s self-interventionist life-choices. Mr. Garcia (sic) could become eventually St. Garcia because he chose to change his own life and not brood over his rejection by racist white people.

In other words, he did not give way to what Seligman calls catastrophic thinking. This is exactly what Indian children, for instance, should be taught: if you are bullied, harassed or feel isolated then ‘remember one young man Gonsalo Garcia’ was racially discriminated, harassed and bullied for being an Indian and yet, instead of brooding over his misfortunes he started a business. And then went on to be a Franciscan Friar in Japan.

The takeaway here is not to ever give up on our dreams — in the case of Gonsalo Garcia it was to be a man of God following the evangelical counsels. In the case of you and I, it may be our swadharma to be an honest student or an ethical tradesman who is suffering academic or financial crises respectively. Following Seligman’s new research, we can right now choose to stop our catastrophic thinking and begin scrutinizing the life of St. Garcia; saying to ourselves: “this too will pass” since long ago an Indian fought against racist bullying and chose to rebuild his own life. St. Garcia is an intervention (sic) to you reading this post.

Positive psychologists say that if one does not have high ideals (goals) in life then one feels empty. An ordinary businessman turned Friar found meaning in life not through suicide, nor through being narrow-minded and feeding xenophobic hatred in Japan but through his own grit to stand up for God. He did not become a martyr to become a Saint, that would have been foolishness and morally wrong. He just did not deviate from his stance as a man who understood that it is better to be crucified than to live a life of ignominy and shame through quod pro quo tradeoffs. Silence (1966) by Shūsaku Endō (1923-96) and earlier, The Power and the Glory (1940) by Graham Greene (1904-91) should be read in this context to understand how shameful it is to sell out to affable meaninglessness.

As a Hindu I have learnt from St. Garcia that we are to never give up; there is always light at the end of the tunnel and to not be a fence-sitter. I must take sides in a moral battle. St. Garcia is important to my life because I can teach my own students and my daughter the skills of resilience, of the skills of active selfintervention of not sitting idle (in other words, to learn self-mastery) and to build prosperity honestly. Then if needed, one should be ready to suffer for what is morally right. If this is not positive psychology in praxis, then nothing is.

It is for practicing Roman Catholics to study the action of ẖesed in Saint Garcia’s life. It suffices for me to know that such a hero was born in India who makes a difference to my life in the here and the now.

Subhasis Chattopadhyay is a blogger and an Assistant Professor in English (UG & PG Departments of English) at Narasinha Dutt College affiliated to the University of Calcutta. He has additional qualifications in Biblical Studies and separately, Spiritual Psychology. He also studied the Minor Upanishads separately. He remains a staunch Hindu. He had written extensively for the Catholic Herald published from Calcutta. From 2010 he reviews books for the Ramakrishna Mission and his reviews have been showcased in Ivy League Press-websites. 


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