What Fines for Rev. Mgr. to Your Holiness?
Spare rod & spoil the child is true not only for kids but also for childish adult leaders who stay kids until rapped. Didn’t even Jesus prescribe rod for errants: for those who call fool, renegade (Mt.5, 22)? Where compelling example fails to cause change, corrective punishment becomes indispensible.
dr. james kottoor
“There was a report that Pope Francis told a Bishop: “The next time anyone addresses you as ‘Your Excellency’, fine him 20 Euros!” I am waiting for the time when he will fine 100 Euros to the one who addresses him as, “Your Holiness”, for we know that God alone is Holy.” Who said it?
No, some one wrote it, none other than Bishop Alex Dias, of Port Blair in his article: Pope Francis, I love you, (in Indian Current, Delhi (IC) 1/9/14, www.indiancurrents.org). Here is a bishop who loves to be called simply “Alex” without the affixes of ‘Dias’, ‘Bishop’ and least of all by honorific phrases like “Your Excellency, “Your Lordship”, or anything in that litany, because he firmly believes in being one with his people as did Mahabali of old to create equality and prosperity in Kerala’s lost paradise. So he writes: “Gone are the days, when people would, perhaps, appreciate the outward, worldly grandeur of the Church prompting youngsters laugh in derision saying: ‘Abhi Joker Log aa rahehaim!’ Pope Francis, addressing the Diplomatic Corps of the Church, pointed to the statue of Jesus Crucified, as he told them that their only promotion must be to the Cross.”
Is there any one among Indian bishops who is totally against this outdated, Constantenian, Imperial practice? To my knowledge: None. Some could be convinced of the need to burry this clownish practice of honorific appellations for good, but I have come across none bold enough to come out in public to advocate it’s burial, lock stock and barrel. There is a long story behind it, factual, which happened in 2012. In brief: Even long before that I used to be a crusader, in my writings of course, against this unholy, scandalous practice by the so called followers of the Carpenter of Nazareth who railed relentlessly against the priestly class and Pharisees of his time for allowing themselves to be called “Rabai” etc. Many a time I wrote: To call the Pope: “Your Holiness” is blasphemy pure and simple, because God alone is Holy.” A creature playing God is to be stopped forthwith
Your Holiness or Servant of Servants?
Sometimes I even trembled that some one would pounce on me to expel me out of the Church for my audacity and temerity, for being disrespectful to a “Holy Pope”. But no one did. Of course honestly I was not being disrespectful to Papacy. I was simply expressing my staunch opposition to a monstrous, self-evident sinful practice. Haven’t we to hate sin and love the sinner? In doing so I had no love lost for the Pope. Never! In fact I argued that the correct title for the Pope could be: “Servant of Servants” (Servus Servorum) but it can’t go pari-passu with “Your Holiness”, being diametrically the opposite and in mortal conflict
“You may be right, but you should not blurt out every unpleasant truth publically and court controversy and disturb public peace (of cemetery?)” my questioning mind used to rebuke me. To that the other half of my reason used to retort: “If only Jesus had kept His blessed mouth shut and did not say all those nasty things (Woes in Mat.23) against the high priests of his time, he would perhaps have lived a thousand years.” So now I feel much relieved when my friend Alex also says, calling Pope “Your Holiness” is wrong because “we know God alone is Holy.” When you are in honourable company you feel comfortable even to go to hell. Funny Dear Alex, “but were there no Solomon among bishops, with or without Arch, during the last 2000 years to shout it out from the house tops and wake up the Hierarchy?”. Half in joke, half in earnest, some wise crack had said: “We all know, the mundane nations of the world are governed by fools while the Catholic Church is governed by Arch fools.”
Don’t be upset for referring to a Bishop as “Dear Alex”. It was in 2012 that Bishop Alex wrote an article: “Needed: Church Shorn of Grandeur,”(IC 18/3/12) for the Lenten season. It shook me out of my wits because an Indian Bishop, expected to be very subservient, was shouting out a home truth. So I wanted to congratulate him immediately. Being in Chicago with my daughter at that time, I wrote to the Editor of IC more than once to get the e-mail of Alex with no avail. That didn’t deter me. I searched the Port Blair website and finally reached him after trying several wrong ids I got. After thanking and congratulating him, the next thing I did was to write an article in IC: Only Remedy: Damascus treat, For Hierarchical High Horse Disease!
Call me by name Alex
Simultaneously I got Alex’s article and mine published in several website magazines in US and India for the edification of ever so many readers. Why? Because in his article Bishop Alex had written referring to Episcopal titles: “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...teachers, father...(Mt. 23: 8-10).” So in my article I just rose up to his expectations and addressed him: Dear Alex all through. To read these two articles please visit: http://sites.google.com/site/jameskottoorspeaking/ and click the two titles in the Alphabetical Index on the left. I believe both the articles are mines of gold deposits of spiritual thought of contemporary relevance. If you don’t find them, please tear me to pieces. What I mean is: “Do me the service of a Devil’s advocate”.
What I wish to high light is there are exemplary Indian Bishops like Alex Dias. He goes about the Island of Andaman and Nicobar with the missionary zeal matched only by Apostle Paul. How do you knew, you may ask. True, to this day I have never met him or he me but he has written such long letters to me as no other bishop on earth has and I still wonder why. From those letters (I have them still as my precious keep) I knew that he knew me from New Leader times, though I didn’t, and he even invited me to visit him in Port Blair, which I could not oblige. You can verify it with Alex. Indeed unforgettable are lessons taught by example. Aren’t they? That is where Pope Francis shines best, as “Teacher Par Excellence,” and we celebrated Teachers’ day recently.
To come back to the title of this essay: How serious and important is the role of appellations in witnessing to Jesus who never pretended to be anything greater than an ordinary carpenter? Didn’t his cotemporaries contemptuously say: “Is he not the Son of a Carpenter…What good can come out of Nazareth etc?” Recall Jesus’ own warning: No disciple can be greater than the master. Yet our ecclesiastical hierarchical class revels in being addressed with otherworldly or heavenly titles even when the crowd below their thrones shout: “The King is naked,” (Abhi Joker Log aa rahehaim) Nay, most of them think, these perks and privileges, as their legitimate right .as do many of our corrupt politicians and take offense when the protocol is not followed. Isn’t it therefore necessary that the Indian bishops convene an emergency telephone conference to discuss the urgency of doing away with this practice of preaching Christ and counter witnessing him in practice?
But how to do away with this centuries old practice? Habits die hard and good examples even from the very top fail to have any commanding power on subordinates. For example I do not know how Pope Francis is being addressed now? But I cited two instances in my earlier articles when, Francis called up two youngsters in North Italy in response to letters they wrote. In both the instances Francis insisted: “Call me just “you”, (in country style “Tu” in Italian, not the honorific “Lai”) adding, didn’t the apostles call Jesus just that and not “Your Excellency?” Did any such outstanding examples have any impact, I mean commanding effect, on our Episcopal class? Any unbecoming and unacceptable behaviour or code of conduct, even if they are deep rooted and sanctified by centuries of malpractice, must be corrected, if not by counsel, by command, by enacting laws to reward and punish the guilty.
Fines for Law breakers?
Levying fines on law breakers at the lowest level with 25 Euros (in India how much: Rs.25/- and Rs.100/- at top level?) could be the beginning to enforce a cleansing drive. I won’t be surprised if PM Modiji were to impose some small penalty for those who defecate in public, not in the beginning of his cleansing drive, but after he has provided enough toilets for the poor? Defecating in the open fills the atmosphere with poisonous, fowl smell. Regular use of unholy, unbecoming and unchristian appellations similarly sullies the moral atmosphere in the Church. It becomes counter witnessing, loud and deafening. Yes it has deafened all of us to what is right parlance and right vocabulary. We got so used to what is wrong that we have come to love and accept it as right. Repeat a bad word as nausea and it comes to be accepted as acceptable, then respectable and then indispensable.
Yet is it fine to penalize some one and make a spectacle out of him/her? To educate the vast variety of offenders in this field it is important, or at least helpful, to make at least a list of offending words and titles that sully the moral atmosphere among followers of Jesus to begin with. For example what fines are to be imposed on those who use graded appellations like: Chevalier, Rev., Very Rev., Very, Very Rev., Rt.Rev., Msgr., Your Excellency, Your Grace, Your Highly placed, Mar, Your Beatitude, Your Holiness? According to the simple prescription given by Jesus we are all equals like brothers and Sisters, friends and well wishers and anything other than these which puts one above or below you – forget about creating hierarchical pedestals of careerism – is totally unacceptable among the followers of Jesus. If all the readers of this piece were to share their lights on more concrete offending appellations other than those cited above and the possible penalties to be attached to them – like Jesus saying “if you call your brother a fool you are answerable before the Sanhedrin, if you call him “Renegade” you will answer for it in hell fire…” (Mt.5, 22) we can make fast progress in cleaning up the foul smelling moral atmosphere in church and society. If Jesus thought of and taught grades of punishments for various kinds and grades of verbal offenses, we also should think and act likewise as he is to be our role model in everything.
Will Bishops Respond?
Just one more point. When Bishop Alex wrote in IC in 2012 not a single Indian Bishop came forward either to support or oppose him, although many Church Citizens (laity) expressed whole hearted support. If this piece were to be sent to all Indian bishops will any one come up either to support or oppose? I usually send all relevant writings to bishops, just to imitate the transparency of Jesus and to avoid speaking behind the back of any one. In an article: Shake off Dust of Empire,(Read it also in the website mentioned above), Joseph Mattam sj, long time Dean of Jesuit Theologate in Gujarat, writer and international speaker, recounts his experience of speaking to all Indian Bishops with representatives from Rome on the hazards of clinging to pagan titles, privileges and perks. He says the response was a dreadfully disturbing and alarming eloquent silence. . Recounting another example of talking to bishops about giving up titles he records what one bishop stood up to say: “Your Grace, My Lords and Rev. Fathers, you do not know what you are talking about; it is not that we want to be called Lords, etc., but it is what the Lord Jesus wanted” - we all looked at each other and smiled; we did not think we could carry on with men like him, so all kept quiet about the matter.”
Being this the stuff the majority of bishops are made of, what more can you expect of them except a studied silence saying to oneself:”If I speak the truth I will have to change, but change at my age is impossible, so I keep mouth shut.” Then why don’t they follow the example of Benedict XVI and get out of harm’s way by resigning? Or performing like Francis? In silence they find refuge because one who keeps quite says nothing (Qui tachet nihil dixit), neither good nor bad. Then what about the Lord who said: You are neither hot nor cold, so I vomit you out of my mouth. Those who follow the internet discussions going on around the globe know the number of opposition groups fighting against the policies of Pope Francis but confine themselves to silence and don’t come out in the open for fear of being discredited, or of losing their face, not their soul.
But those who are ready rather to lose their face than their soul must come out in the open, opt for transparency and speak up their mind against the pompous ways of church leaders among clergy and laity, not yet ready to sup and sleep with the Lazaruses of this world like their master who started his life in a cattle shed, went through life without a home address and ended his life on a cross and got himself buried in a borrowed tomb only to disappear from mortal eyes to electrify millions as a live wire with His undying ideals to bring back the lost paradise, or the glorious reign of equality and prosperity of Mahabali era lost to Keralites or the Ache Din the entire nation is yearning for. HAPPY ONAM to all.
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