"Revised article with inputs from Papal Candidate Cardinal Maria Martini of Milan, Italy, the Liberal face of Church who gave an interview to Corriere Della Sera before his death last week."
Focus on Jesus the Good News
Evangelize the Evangelisers!
“New Evangelisation” is topic of discussion now in Pune then in October for a Synod of Bishops in Rome. Where to begin to live up to the adage: “Well begun is half done”? Like the Pastor, so the flock!
‘Work with the Church and bishops in social, political and cultural fields to bear witness to goodness and unity, not divisions,’ Cardinal Alancherry is reported to have exhorted nearly 600 members of All Kerala Catholic Congress representing various dioceses of Syromalabar Church in Kerala.
The meeting was held in the presence of the Synod of bishops at Kakkanad the head quarters of the church in August. Reports in the press do not mention divisive issues discussed or diverse views of the laity. Are they flying a trial balloon to get reactions to floating a church controlled political party like Muslim League, some suspect?
No one can deny the crying need to bear witness to unity and goodness both in Church and society. Only all are not agreed on what is meant by church, society and unifying principle. According to Vatican council Church is the people of God without hierarchical divisions of bishops, priests and laity. Society is the whole of humanity without borders and divisions of natives and foreigners, or of class, caste and creed anywhere.
What is the unifying principle? For Christians it is the person of Jesus, his life and teachings. When He is substituted or kept out of discussion and discourse by self appointed humans, or worldly imperial models the result is that of a rudderless ship left to the whims and fancies of self-appointed captains unable to see eye to eye. When that happens, the only valid principle becomes: ”Unity in necessary things, diversity in unnecessary things and charity in all things,” proposed by St. Augustine.
Out dated Church
One has only to compare the pre-Constantine church with what it is today, to see how far it has strayed away from its original ideals and practices and became disfigured and outdated. "Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous," said former cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan in an interview to Italian daily Corriere della Sera. The 85 year old Cardinal who died a week ago was a Papal candidate after Pope John Paul 2nd. "The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation," he said in his interview.
According to him happenings like Paedophilia undermined the Catholic Church’s status as a moral arbiter and so he asked: "The church is 200 years out of date. Why don't we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?" It may be more correct to say the church is 2000 years behind times, not just 200 years. That is why today there is a hue and cry for a radical retracing to the roots before the advent of Constantine.
He also had a bold view on divorce and remarriage. "A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children." In this way "the Church loses the future generation". Here he is in tune with the development of doctrine and consensus of the faithful (sensus fidelium) spoken of by Cardinal Newman as opposed to cardinal Ottoviani’s description of that doctrine as “Always the Same” (Semper Idem}. Church has to move forward in structure and thinking adapting itself to changing times and new insights to be up-to-date. That is the meaning of: “Church is to be reformed always,” of Vatican Council.
Jesus, the Role Model
High thinking and simple living from crib to cross of Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth of history, invariably strikes a responsive chord in every heart. He alone is the unchanging model. Often, He does not get due place in most discussions. Instead a controversial concept of the church and its so-called pillars, the bishops are projected as role models. Before the Vatican Council church meant the Pope, following Louis 14th who said: I am the State. Hence there was the caricaturing of the church as “Holy Father Church” alluding also to the all pervading male domination (it is still prevailing) which reduced the role of woman, the better half of man, to zero. After the council in principle church aught to have meant “people of God” including every member male or female. But in practice even today, it means only bishops including the bishop of Rome (Pope). There is no hint of any place for the lower clergy (priests) or the lowest hoi-polloi, the laity.
A structured church with rulers and ruled with various ascending or dissenting grades of citizenship is the order of the day. One wonders how many superior-inferior steps or divisions there are in the hierarchical ladder of the church. We deplore ad nauseam the caste system, worse castes within caste which divides Indian society into conflicting groups. Aren’t there more such divisions in the Church? For the sake of brevity Fr.Jose Mattam sj, in his article reduced all such divisions into one major one: “Clergy-Laity divide in the Church”. Such a division was undreamt of by Jesus. His teaching to his followers was to live as brothers, sisters and friends, all equals, none superior or inferior.
Nay he went one step further to teach by example, how one who is seen to be first must become the last, by washing the feet of his disciples. He further enjoined it on his disciples saying: ‘If I have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet, (He did not say just on Holy Thursday). I have given you an example to copy’, (Jn.13.14) and added in another context: ‘among the pagans rulers lord it over and make their authority felt. This should not happen among you. Anyone who wants to be great or first must be your servant, nay your slave just as I have come not to be served but to serve’. (Mt.20, 25-28)
Trail Blazers Needed
What more compelling reasons do followers of Jesus need to strike down the existing hierarchical system which grades and shuts people in various superior inferior watertight compartments to languish in them for ever? Judging from the practice followed in the church since Constantine in 4th century, there is little hope for any change of this system which has struck deep roots. But this hurdle must be overcome (Delenda est Cartago) at any cost. What is needed is to find many Sauls ready to be transformed into Pauls as enlightened leaders and trail blazers. Leadership is the other side of the coin of loneliness. One who wants to be a leader should act out his conviction alone and also take the consequences all alone, as did Jesus, as did a Gandiji, as did a Martin Luther King, as did a Mandela and so many others. That is why Jesus asked the sons of Zebadee: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Mt.20, 24
. But how are we to produce many more aggressively vocal Pauls to counter adamant or less enlightened Peters to make them realise they are in the wrong. Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair argued for it in his article: “Needed: A Church without grandeur” and set an example. Call me just “Alex” without any honorific titles, he wrote and I did it in my response to him in the Indian Currents. Commenting on those holding on to “titles in the Church: “Holiness”, “Eminence”, “Beatitude”, “Excellency”,“Grace”, “Lordship” he had written that they keep people stay away from them: “I find these titles come in the way of a warm and friendly conversation. I would just like to call a person by name, and be called by name, dropping all formalities and titles. Jesus tells us: “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ” (Mt. 23: 8-10).” That is the example set by one Indian Bishop.
This is the unpleasant duty of every enlightened faithful, especially of those who want to pride themselves members of a Catholic Reformation Movement. But they have to be prepared to suffer calumny and crucifixion while praying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” without ill-will to any but with good will to all. Victory is assured for those who persevere patiently to the end, as seen in the case of Jesus. No follower can expect to be greater than the master.
Signs of the Times
Some signs of it are already on the horizon. Scheduled for October 7 to 28 is the Synod of Bishops in Rome planned already in 2010. Its topic is NEW EVANGELISATION. In preparation for it national or regional Bishops’ Synods are busy like bees conducting seminars on the topic to contribute their inputs and contribution. An Asian level conference reportedly is being held in Pune now from Sept.3 to 7.
What should be the starting point of this New Evangelisation? To my puny mind it should be none other than Evangelising the Evangelisers, yes, evangelising the present Hierarchical Leadership which is a counter witness to the leadership Jesus gave saying: ‘I have given you an example. Do not call any one your Father. We have only one father in heaven. We are all brothers. Do not imitate the pagans and rulers of the world who lord it over. I am one among you to serve and not to be served. Wash the feet of one another daily’.
Is this not also what worldly wisdom says: “Like the King so the people”; “Like the pastor, so the flock.” A New Evangelisation should mean a march to the clean Christian roots in the pre-Constantine era because imperial trappings, external exhibition of pomp and pageantry proper to royalty were all gifted by Emperor Constantine, not by Jesus born in a manger. There was not even a room in the Inns for him to be borne, let alone Bishops’ Palaces (Aramanas) or Cathedrals. Compare the rags of the manger with the silk and satin and precious sacrificial vassals in gold and silver on alters for the sacramental rebirth of Jesus. Poles apart they stand and proclaim that the story of the Church was indeed a leap from rags to riches.
So what is needed is a radical overhauling of the church which in effect should mean an overturning of the pyramidal church turned on its head. Jesus set the example of overturning the pyramidal Jewish religious hierarchy, when he washed the feet of Peter. Figuratively Jesus was the first Paul, Peter had to engage in a duel. The story of the actual Saul who became Paul emerged only later. We, you and I, are only just Sauls now. We have to become Pauls and trail- blazers, if we are to achieve the goal of a New Evangelisation because the present generation of evangelisers are chosen from among us. You get the church you deserve, just as it is said, you get the government you deserve – corrupt or clean, reformed or to-be-reformed. Self-reform must precede church-reform! firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 9446219203