Only Remedy: Damascus treat
For Hierarchical High Horse Disease!
An open response to Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair’s Candid plea to
“His Holiness, Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Graces and Lordships”
in the Church to come down from their high horses and thrones, echoing a
temple-cleansing, to become accessible to ordinary humans in the street as
Yes, the need of the hour is “more ‘Pauls’ in the church who will be prepared to talk, with the power of the Risen Lord, even to Peter!” My heartfelt congrats, thanks and humble appreciation to you Bishop Alex for your bold statement in: “Needed: Church Shorn of Grandeur,”(IC 18/3/12) Alex Dias is the Bishop of Port Blair, capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a union territory of India.
Dear Alex (I call you so because I believe you are perfectly right when you
say, “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”) you have excelled in demonstrating how to be a Paul
today to all especially to your hierarchical confreres -- bishops, cardinals and
the Pope, today’s Peter. You have done it with utmost finesse, power of the
Risen Lord and spiritual concern of a shepherd mingling with and guiding his
flock through the desert land ( present Lenten season) to the green pastures of
the promised land to become “an Easter People’. I am humbled and edified
by your example.
Kick of Grace a Must
You wrote we need “Pauls”, not just another Paul. That we have in you.
One or two swallows won’t make the summer. We need a crowd of them; yes a crowd
of bishops speaking up like you and giving the lead in every field in every
country. How to produce them? Saul did not become Paul all by himself. He
needed the Kick-of-Grace to send him sprawling, blind, bewildered and weeping
on rough terrain from his comfortably placed high saddle on his horse back. Who
did it? The invisible person who spoke: “Saul Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Personally I tremble at the thought of playing Jesus the author of that voice,
to administer a kick to those on thrones, although you have done it gently and
gracefully without hurting. But then aren’t we, both you and I called to
be other Christ’s (equally or you more than me?) and or to be extensions of the
caressing hands and kicking feet of Jesus? So the moot point is: who will bell
the cat? Who will administer the kick? No matter who does it, it has to be both
hurting and healing, because there will be no gain without pain, no crown
without the cross. Your performance as the opening batsman, it is hoped, will
surely embolden an unending string of better qualified persons from your tribe
and ranks once you are balled out.
I purposely said “opening batsman” because honestly I cannot recall any bishop
in India or abroad who has spoken (nay written, because many lack that
additional courage to put down in black and white their spoken words) so
clearly, humbly, bluntly and with concern to imitate both the
Temple-Cleansing ministry and the foot-washing ministry of Jesus in our day and
age like brothers and sisters, neither superior nor inferior.
Your example first reminded me of St. Bernard’s words to Pope Eugeniusz III to become a successor not of Constantine but of Peter. His papacy was between 1145-1153. The next was that of St.Augustine: “For you I am a Bishop, but with you I am a Christian”, then of Pope John XXIII’s call to cleanse the dust of the empire of Constantine from the throne of Peter downward. All three of them I quoted many times in my articles. It was done to contribute my mite to help the church I love to come down from her high horse of imperial, worldly grandeur as you say. French theologian Conger in fact wrote at length, also to instil a sense of shame into these Bishops gone crazy decorating themselves in gold, silver and glittering finery “like brides on their wedding day”.
Another written example to beat them all, that came to my mind was the
pages-long interview of Cardinal Suenens of Belgium
published in La Croix in France,
National Catholic Reporter in US and New Leader in India. The last was the beginning
of the end of a kick of grace causing my own down fall from the high horse of
its editorship. Suenens was giving an inimitably balanced but down to
earth critique of the worldly ways of the Papacy of Paul VI. And make no doubt;
Pope Paul and Cardinal Suenens were very close friends. Proof? After his
papal election he came out to give his first blessing accompanied by Cardinal
Suenens (never done in company before), of which I am the living witness from
St.Peter’s Square. Collegiality and co-responsibility were the two themes of
the interview and he set an example that close friendships should never become
a hindrance to brotherly public criticism.
Become ‘o’rdinary not ‘O’rdinary
A recent example is that of the Federation of Asian Bishops’
Conference (FABC) appealing to their confreres to desist from projecting the
Eurocentric imperial hierarchical model of Constantine
instead of the image of a Church of the poor much needed in Asia.
But to my knowledge, no single bishop has come forward as you have,
to do some plain speaking that the Ordinaries of the church with capital “O”
have to become ordinaries with lower ‘o’ among ordinary people of
our times, if they are to reflect the ordinary life Jesus lived among the
ordinary people of his times. Until that is done, JESUS of history ought to
feel uncomfortable in the company of present day bishops and in posh churches
which you aptly compare to the “INN”s with no
place for Him.
Of course there was an exceptional bishop, Sopane of Daltangang who used
to be described as the “beedy-smoking, cycle-peddling and karat-sporting
bishop” with whom I had the opportunity to rub shoulders when he chaired the
Evangelisation Seminar in Delhi
dressed in Kurta long, long ago. I was there thanks to late Fr.Amalor of
Bangalore who wanted me to report the deliberations in New Leader.
“Beedy smoking” brings to my mind images of a Jesus being called “friend of
drunkards and prostitutes” who are Vitandi (those to be avoided) for bishops
and priests though they are to be first among humans to be saved. Jesus
came seeking sinners, not saints. Bishop Sopane also had the temerity to present
himself for his ad limina Visit to Pope Paul VI in kurta, it is said.
Other bishops who revel in overdress, costly dress, and precious worldly
ornaments or “obsolete, grotesque, mundane attire,” as you describe in your
article, used to feel uncomfortable in his company and avoid it.
Do you think that the Jew called Jesus and nicknamed as the carpenter of Nazareth, if he were to
barge into our company today would come dressed in a clerical garbage with high
priestly mitre and crosier to be saluted as “Your Holiness Jesus,” “Your
Eminence Jesus”, “Your Beatitude... Grace...Excellency...” or as an ordinary
working carpenter, mason or farmer called Thomas, Krishnan or Nazar to be
addressed as Hello Mr.?
Think also of Pope John XXIII visiting prisoners in Rome and telling them: “I
came to see you because you can’t come to see me,” and of the Priest cardinal
who went on a similar mission in France to meet a prostitute and happened to
die there and therefore the news papers the following day splashed it with an
explosive sexy slant.
14 Sisters who Played Paul
I recall here also the letter of 14 Sister theologians from India sent on 31st
October 1994, to the then Pope John Paul II addressing him as “Dear Father”
(not your holiness or any such rubbish) and requesting him to
change his stand on ordination of women for theological reasons stated in their
letter. The result was the 14 were kicked off their high horses of responsible
teaching or administrative posts in their congregations for playing the Paul
challenging Peter. To read the entire letter please visit: https://sites.google.com/site/jameskottoorspeaking/
and see the article: “Indian Sisters on Women Priests” in content
section. For related articles see: 1.Jesus the Revolutionary... 2.If Priesthood
doesn’t exist... 3.Bethlehem: House of Bread, 4. Syromalabar Church....
If the BBC telecasting of the coronation of our princes of the church was
“jarring to my eyes and to my mind” and boring to sane thinking, you have
company dear Alex. I too was feeling so miserable at the hype visual and print
media were making of it that I resorted to Face Book to give vent to my
frustration and wrote: “While appreciating the crowing of Alancherry as prince
of Church, and his public statement not to address him as the "most highly
placed" I am surprised at his propensity for pomp and pageantry, gold and
silver -- 14 carat gold ring, red hat with Marthoma cross (a symbol of
distinction or division?) --and the picture showing him blessing people in
Orthodox style with golden cross. Recall "gold and silver, I have none of
Peter, get up and walk". I wish he and all cardinals had the power to make
the downtrodden get up and walk” February 20 at 4:49 am, since no Catholic paper would
oblige me space to write such an honest comment. Earlier, I had written
articles and comments, congratulating him, praying for him and wishing him well
highlighting his achievements.
Damascus Experience a Must
So the challenge before all of us is this: How to make the leadership in the
Catholic Church and in all churches to go through the Damascus experience. Saul was going to Damascus to capture and
imprison Christians. He was truly convinced he was doing the right thing. It
proves the way to hell can be paved with good intentions. So could be many of
our leaders. The remedy to correct this mindset may be called: the cross of
experience, Kick of grace or flight from the worldly ways. All boils down to
one’s own self-emptying like Jesus, without which we can never hope to have
more Pauls like you my dear brother Alex.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let us hence wait and see how many bishops or higher prelates will come out with their frankly speaking. It could be you Alex and me james are totally wrong. If so they have a brotherly duty to correct us convincingly. Silence on their part can’t be taken as approval. At worst it is cowardice, at best it is politics. The middle is: Qui tachit nihil dicit (one who keeps quiet says nothing) If they still persist in their silence do not be surprised at what people will do. What? My former Archbishop Louis Mathias of Chennai used to say half in joke, half in earnest to test the proficiency of his young clerics in Latin: “Fuge Prelatum tanquam peccatum” (Flee from prelates(bishops and cardinals) as from mortal sin) and ask them for its English rendering. Let not the thinking and critical section of the laity be forced to do just that: Flee from bishops as from sin!
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