Needed: A Church Shorn of Grandeur!

Alex Dias

Episcopal affluence, extravaganza revisited       

BY Bishop Alex Dias (of Port Blair)

                 (Note: The moment I read this article I fell in love with the writer, whom I have never met to this day. My frantic search for my loved  one  finally led me  to his email address  and  of all  the 180 to 200 Indian bishops, he alone has written a  series  of longest letters  and still continues  sometimes with the plea: “James, due to pressing pastoral journeys I am not able to send frequent  emails but my “knee-mails” (prayers) are there always for you,  but  don’t forget to put me  on your mailing list,” which I still continue.

               Why publish this article now, originally published on 18/3/12 in Indian Currents? It gives answers to many hot potatoes discussed today like: 1. Shun Episcopal clerical extravaganza, 2. How should bishops be called, by their proper name as Alex suggests or by their concocted  heavenly honorific (Beatitude, Eminence, Very very Rev. etc.) titles? 3. This is Lenten season and Alex wrote it for  Lent 2012, 4. He cites  how children laugh at these bishops dressed up like buffoons:  “abhi joker log aa rahe hai!”. Is it not time for the Church to give up all the obsolete, grotesque and mundane attires?

                5. Not a  single Indian bishops reacted to this article then, lay people did

favorably, 6. Will any respond  now after 15 years? 7. Will the Indian bishops (also the rest of us) read and prayerfully  meditate what the gospels(St.Paul) says about  the self-empting of Jesus(Phil.2.6-12)?  8.  No servant is greater than the  master,  no follower greater than the leader, 9. Will they  stand united and publicly give up the use of these atrociously  undeserving titles because you are asked to call yourself “a useless servant” (Lk.17.10) (not an eminent or excellent one) after you have  done  all what you are supposed to do, 10. Finally James Kottorwill they be  prepared to disprove the time tested maxim: “What you are  speaks to me so loud that I can’t hear what you say?” Much more to say, but to the  intelligent few words would suffice (Intelligenti pauca) and you are all more than intelligent. james kottoor, editor)    

          Lent can be – and must be – a very significant, period of time of the year for us. It must help us to re-arrange our lives and to re-arrange our lives means to re-start the process of dying and rising again with Jesus.

         We need to be brought down and low from our own “horses” of pride, be stripped of our evil tendencies, die with Jesus, and rise again with Him. There is much work that awaits us, as individuals and as the Church, before we reach the stage of “death and resurrection” attained by Paul.

            While I have always enjoyed the Christmas Season since my childhood, as I grow older, I keep saying, “Thank God there is Lent.” Yes, Lent is a Season of Grace which, if spent worthily, will prepare us for a meaningful celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus. It is, in a certain sense, a “timeout”, a welcome one. If well availed of, it can give a totally new direction to our lives. And, of course, it culminates in the celebration of the great Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, the greatest feast in our liturgical calendar. It is that event in the life  of Christ upon which our faith is based and revolves. Paul puts it very clearly when he says that, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 14).

          A very drastic statement, indeed, which makes of the Resurrection of Jesus the very basis of our faith. In the next verse, Paul goes on to say that if Christ has not been raised then, “we are even found to be misrepresenting God.” Indeed, powerful statements of Paul, but he has no hesitation making them. Yes, Christ has been raised from the dead. This is a truth of our faith, which we proclaim every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed. The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, one that the first Christian community believed in and lived, as the central truth. It has been handed on as fundamental by tradition.

We are an Easter People

          The resurrection of Jesus is a truth which is solidly based on sacred scripture, as the text from St. Paul, quoted above, has made it very clear. Indeed, Paul can be said to be full of the Risen Christ, and full of the Event of the Resurrection. Paul never seems to be able to stop talking about it. The Risen Lord has touched him, and changed him to such an extent that he feels “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2: 20).

          In the Book of the Acts of the  Apostles, Chapter 13, we find a very powerful and fiery speech of Paul in which he condemns a certain Bar-Jesus, also called Elymas, a magician, who was standing in the way of the Proconsul Sergius  Paulus, who wanted to hear the Word of God and turn towards the faith which was being proclaimed by Paul. “You son of the devil”, Paul says to the magician, “You enemy of all righteousness, full of deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord” (Acts 13:4ff). Now this kind of courage can only be the gift of one who has certain convictions. Paul, whose conviction about the Risen Lord was unshakable, wanted to share this Risen Lord with the Proconsul. To prove the power of the Risen Lord, Paul told the magician that “the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” And it happened, and the Proconsul believed, and was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

          It was this conviction about the Risen Lord, which gave Paul the courage and inspiration to write that nice letter to the Galatians. He had experienced Christ now, and he firmly believed in Him. Christ had knocked him down from the horse he was riding proudly, as he went towards Damascus to persecute the Christians, and to have them put to death. That one encounter with Jesus had changed him completely. Now it was his turn to bring people down from their “horses” and their high positions to be able to experience Jesus the Risen Lord. All that mattered to him was to make Him known to one and all. He says: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). He regards everything else as rubbish (Phil.3:8ff).

          It is this same unshakable faith in Jesus, the Risen Lord, that gives Paul the courage to confront none other than Peter Himself, the one on whom Jesus chose to build His Church. “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned”, he says. Without mincing words, he comes down on Peter: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified…if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor” (Gal. 2: 14ff).

Meaning of  Lent

                In the beginning of this write up I said: “Thank God, there is Lent.” I said it precisely because I understand its meaning and relevance better now than I did as a child. Lent gives us the opportunity to remember and celebrate the Passion and Death of Jesus, and then to celebrate the culminating event of His Resurrection. Of course, we can and we need to recall Christ’s Death and Resurrection all throughout the year. And we do it each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist which, we know, is a Memorial of the Passion, Death  and Resurrection of the Lord.

             But Lent is a period of time within the Liturgical Year which invites us to dwell more strongly on this Truth, and to live it as we ought to. For he died and rose again to enable us to die for our sins and iniquities and to rise again to a new life with Him. We need to be brought down and low from our own “horses” of pride, be stripped of our evil tendencies, die with Jesus, and rise again with Him. There is much work that awaits us, as individuals and as the Church, before we reach the stage of “death and resurrection” attained by Paul. Only then will we be able to join the great St. Augustine and sing: “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song”.

Living the Resurrection of Jesus

            The Resurrection of Jesus is not a past event which had relevance once upon a time, and has lost it now. Far from it, the Resurrection of Jesus must be for us, as it was for Paul, an event which is central and ever relevant. Paul was aware of the power flowing from the Resurrection of Jesus. It had led him to the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus, because of which he had suffered the loss of all things, and had counted them as rubbish. This had made him become like Jesus in his death in order to, finally, attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:7-10).

            I have often had the thought that Bishops – the Pope included, priests, religious and all Christians have a long way to go before we die with Christ and rise again with Him, thus becoming His true followers. Jesus himself had to be stripped, beaten, bruised, broken and killed before He was raised by His Father. We need to strip ourselves before we reach the Power and the Glory of the Resurrection. There is so much of unconcern among us for one another, lack of commitment to our vocation and mission, arrogance and discrimination in dealing with people, and so on. All too often we are used to talking and commanding. We need to listen to people. And in order to listen to people we need to first listen to God in prayer.

                 This need for us to strip ourselves, both as individuals and as the Church, came stunningly to my mind the other day as I was watching the Installation of the New cardinals on BBC Television. The whole scene of the Cardinals in Red was jarring to my eyes and to my mind. I could not help thinking of poor Jesus stripped, bruised and bleeding, and I failed to see how that worldly grandeur could blend with the self-emptying of Jesus. I also thought of the many people who do not have a piece of cloth to cover the nakedness of their bodies, even in our own country. How can we, shepherds of these sheep, clothe ourselves in such grandiose outfits which, to me, seem more fitting to the ways of the world. Sometimes we tend to justify this grandeur of the Church by saying that the people like it. But are we not supposed to catechize the people? We are involved in catechesis in many matters and so many times. Should we not lead the people and the Church to the simplicity of Jesus by our catechesis and, above all, by our example?

            In his letter, St. James talks about the sin of discrimination between the rich and the poor which we often fall prey to. He reminds us that God has “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him” (James 2: 1ff). Does it not give us the impression that we have aligned ourselves with the rich, when we clad ourselves with such outfits of grandeur? I could not help asking myself how comfortable Jesus would have felt in such surroundings. He would, probably, find no place in that “INN”. It seems to me that it is hard for us to put this grandeur of the Church side by side with the existential situation of the people, whom we are called to serve.

            In this context I am also thinking of the mitre, not understanding its meaning and relevance to the present times. I am reminded of a senior bishop who was telling me about how a bunch of youngsters were making fun of the men in mitres, as they entered the Church in procession, saying“abhi joker log aa rahe hai!”. Is it not time for the Church to give up all the obsolete, grotesque and mundane attires? The words of Jesus, spoken about the Scribes and Pharisees, come to my mind: “They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels” (Mt. 23:5). Personally, I think these paraphernalia create a distance between us and the people, keeping them away from us. Thank God, in our present times we do not see too many bishops wearing rings with precious stones on them.

            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, 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. 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).

Lent a spiritual “Time-Out”

           Lent is, indeed, a welcome  spiritual “Time-Out”, which can make a huge difference in our lives. In volleyball matches it has often been seen that, after a “Time-Out”, the teams play differently, with a new vigour and plan, giving a totally new direction to the game. Similarly, Lent can be – and must be – a very significant period of time of the year for us. It must help us to re-arrange our lives and to re-arrange our lives means to re-start the process of dying and rising again with Jesus, a process which we launch into on the day of our baptism. It implies stripping ourselves of all that is evil in our lives.

            We will need to be open to the Holy Spirit so  that He can speak to us, and we can listen to Him. This we will do by spending more time in prayer. Side by side we will try to listen to people, and not always do the talking. Let us pray that there may be more “Pauls” in the  Church who will be prepared to talk, with the power of the Risen Lord, even to Peter. This is the need of the hour for our self purification and the purification of the Church.  


(The writer is the Bishop of the Diocese of Port Blair, He  can  be contacted at: portblaircathdiocese@gmail.com.

 

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  1. Abraham Koothottil. says:

    The views of the Bishop of Port Blair are really inspiring. A shadow of doubt however pervades over the insistence on the resurrection of Jesus coming from Paul.Will not the Resurrection of Jesus play down the importance and value of his death? It looks ridiculous to explain death and resurrection of Jesus like someone's death on a stage and when the curtain falls he gets up and walks away. Jesus lived on earth, taught people about the kigdom of God and was killed. These expressions have meaning and we understand it. But the assertion that he rose from the dead cannot have any meaning on the same logic and level. Or else we would have expected Jesus to continue to live on earth fulfilling his mission of teaching about the Kingdom. Any number of assertion with whatever force it may be cannot fill the vacuum of meaning about the resurrection! A German theologian explained resurrection as "Die Sache Jesu geht weiter"–The minimum we can say about the Resurrection of Jesus!

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