Will the Church hierarchy which has been aping the mundane imperial ways of the world from Emperor Constantine in the 4th century take a cue now from the Indian President who forbad the use of colonial titles to refer to him, in order to be one with ordinary humans?
Dr. James Kottoor
Our Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has set an example of humility and equality of all humans. He wants to be addressed only as Sri Pranab, not His Excellency according to reports in Manorama daily 5/10/12.
President Pranab was to preside over the graduation function at the Dalit Narayana Misra University in Bihar. In the invitation card for the function President was referred to as: His Excellency. When this was brought to his notice, he forthwith instructed the University to use only “Sri” before his name and never to go for any honorific titles reminiscent of colonial domination. In addition he asked the University not to prepare any special elevated seat to honour him. The message he sent out was clear: He wants to be an ordinary man among ordinary humans, without the distinctions of Dalits and upper cast, in contrast to the ‘Ordinary’ with capital “O” used to refer Catholic bishops and other imperial, honorific and heavenly titles for higher ups.
In this he was literally, but unwittingly or unintentionally, imitating a Carpenter of Nazareth of yore who asked “Why you call me Good?” when some one addressed him “Good Master” because God alone is Good according to Jesus, we are all just brothers, equals and friends, nothing more.
Mr. President of Krishna Menon
It is said it was V.K.Krishna Menon who was the first in India to address Sanjeeva Reddy, the then President of Indian National Congress (later he also became Indian President) as “Mr. President” and even when others objected to the use of “Mr.” he stuck to his gun. How many in India will have the guts to imitate him? Now that Pranab has come out strong and stark every one might dare. Why? Isn’t the most powerful head of state which is also the oldest democracy, USA, is called Mr. President or Mr. Obama, nothing more, for long? How is it that it has not influenced us to think independently and act independently in dealing with such matters at home?
Today the practice of resorting to outdated imperial and divine titles (shall we call them a type of Privy Purses mentality?) is kept alive mostly by so-called “god-men” in various religions, following the bad example first given by the Catholic Church, ever since Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It was against this St Bernard stingingly castigated the then Pope saying in substance: “When you revel in royal dress, ride a snow white horse with glittering sword and are addressed by imperial titles, you are proclaiming to the whole world that you are the successor of Constantine, not of Peter the fisherman.”
History has records of many more such rebukes. The latest was the mild one from the Indian Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair who went hammer and thong against all anachronistic practices. He had the audacity to come out publicly and say he would prefer to be called just “Alex” his personal name with no qualifications whatever. He wrote: “I am also thinking of the titles we are holding on to in the Church: “Holiness”, “Eminence”, “Beatitude”, “Excellency”, “Grace, “Lordship”….. A number of times I have had people asking me how they are to address a Bishop, an Archbishop, a Cardinal, and a Pope. They would rather stay away from us for fear they may address us wrongly. 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” and he quoted (Mt. 23: 8-10) to clinch his argument that you are not to be called Rabi etc since we are all just brothers under the fatherhood of God. That is why I suggested more than once in articles they should be called just: Mr. Pope, Mr. Cardinal, Mr. Bishop, and Mr. Priest etc. But the initiative should come from them first. It will, but only if they are really led by the spirit of Jesus.
Grotesque Mundane Attires
In his article Bishop Alex even argued that it was high time that the church “give up all obsolete, grotesque and mundane attires” like the other worldly head gear called Mitre, gold chain, ring, shepherd’s crook etc. seeing which the younger generation shout in derision; “abhi joker log aa rahe hai!”. (Here comes the Joker procession). (See his article: Needed a Church Shorn of Grandeur” in IC 12/3/12 and my response: Only Remedy: Damascus Treat, IC 26/3/12)
Many readers of IC wrote endorsing and congratulating Bishop Alex’s stand. But the wonder of it all was, not even one of his brother bishops in India, (they are over 160) cared to say a word of approval in public. What does their silence speak eloquently? Approval, disapproval, their inability to make a choice or their adamant blind adherence to the “sacred” traditional practice nut shelled in the Ottoviani dictum “Eclesia simper Idem” meaning the Catholic Church remains the same always, since it makes no mistakes?
That is not the mind of Vatican II when it says: Eclesia simper Reformanda (Church is to be reformed constantly) especially since it has to live in today’s modern democratic world, not any more in the middle ages of dictatorship and imperialism, and has to respond to the signs of the times marked by free speech, respect for public opinion and democratic code of conduct. It means it has to stop being a church in the sacristy and start being one in the market place to see, listen and speak as Jesus did when he trudged the dusty roads of Palastine. Here one is reminded of the three proverbial monkeys which sees not, hears not and speaks not. It was not for this that Pope John XXIII asked to open wide the doors and windows and come out. Will the Rome Synod make a difference?
Rome Synod on Evangelisation
The fiftieth anniversary of that epic Vatican II meet is now being held on a grand scale in Rome to review the gains and losses of the Council, through the search light called “New Evangelization” the theme of the meet. Asian bishops already met in Pune recently to study this issue to highlight the challenges and the collective thinking of the region to meet them head on. Nothing much has appeared even in the Catholic press to conscientize the public and ensure its active involvement, although the leadership trumpet ad nauseam that church is the “people of God”, that the vast majority of the laity really constitute the church, that they are not just the front lines of the Church, that the divide between clergy and laity was man made and has no biblical base.
It is in this context I wrote: Evangelize the Evangelisers, the clergy and hierarchy who still live in ivory towers. Like the pastors, so the people! One person with a broad vision, Pope John XXIII brought about a total revolution in the Church. How many bishops have we today with such vision and leadership qualities, bishops who speak up their mind on burning issues of the times – poverty, illiteracy, ill health, broken homes, corruption, exploitation, violence, conflict within and between nations -- as did Cardinal Maria Martini of Milan who passed away recently and take a public stand for or against problems affecting family, social and political life of the people of God, not minding the cost, instead of keeping silent?
At least one Indian bishop, Alex Dias has spoken, on the anachronistic life style of the Catholic prelates. That life style simply drives thinking sections of the rank and file of the church away from their bishops, as from Mortal sin sharply expressed in the saying Fuge prelatum Tamquam Peccatum (Flee from bishops as from Mortal sin). Here is just one instance for all to put in the pipe and smoke in the light of foregone discussion: What will be the decision of the Rome Synod on holding fast to “obsolete, mundane titles” especially in the light of the example given by our President Pranab Mukherjee? Will they open their mouth at all to speak on this issue? Or will they just keep mum and pass the buck?
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org