Pulling down the old churches which are in good condition and building bigger churches, spending several crores of rupees has become a common activity in Kerala. There is competition among the parishes for constructing expensive churches. Many parish priests consider building big churches as a great achievement. Many of these priests are aware of the empty churches in Europe which have become mere tourist monuments. Yet they are blindly imitating the failed system and structures of Europe. Rich people are willing to give large donations because their names are written on the walls of the churches. The poor people are forced to pay by brainwashing them with the opium of religiosity.
Once an opulent church is constructed the priest and the people who manage the affairs of the church feel the urgency of constructing a grotto of Mother Mary in the church campus. Some rich people are ready to sponsor it. When I came to know that a single person has spent more than eight lakh rupees for a grotto I questioned the parish priest. “When people want to express their faith we should not stand in their way” was the justification of the priest.
When the construction of a grotto was completed another member of the church had a fancy to erect a huge stone cross in front of the church. He had seen such stone crosses in front of the ancient churches in Kerala. Parish priest was very happy and encouraged this act. Another four lakh rupees were spent for this monument.
The fancy was not over. Why don’t we have a shrine of St. Antony erected at the gate of the church? The justification was that people who pass through the road will stop to pray and offer money. A shrine was erected spending more than five lakh rupees. A large donation box also was placed.
The ego of another member of the church was manifested by sponsoring a traditional 30 feet tall gold coloured brass flag post in front of the church costing more than five lakh rupees. The flag post is used hardly twice or thrice in a year.
The parish priest felt very satisfied because he has achieved great things by erecting all these structures with donations from his people. These monuments are considered testimonies of people’s faith. Will the same pious Catholics be generous enough to give if donations are requested for helping a poor man to build his broken house, supporting a surgery for a poor person, educating poor children or any such humanitarian cause?
The opium of devotion is such that people believe that money given to church or temple is given to God. They are yet to learn the spirituality of loving one’s neighbour. They are yet to learn the teaching of Christ, “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me”. The priests because of their vested interests often fail to teach that God doesn’t exist in the concrete structures made of stones, cement and iron.
Another fancy of some priests is constructing life size structures of 14 Stations of the Cross in the church campus. Some others spend large amount of money to construct monuments depicting the mysteries of Rosary. The money is gathered from donations by exploiting the religious sentiments of people. In the mission dioceses where people are poor, the religious congregations are forced to sponsor construction of one station each of the way of the cross. Each of the stations cost over a lakh of rupees. The argument is that these structures stand as witness of Christian faith to people of other faith. A mission diocese of north India took pride in erecting the tallest statue of Christ spending more than fifty lakh rupees collected from abroad. The paradox is that more than eighty percent Catholics of that diocese do not have a modest house to live in.
Construction of these structures is the result of blind imitation. This manifests the spiritual bankruptcy of the religious leaders. Spiritual growth is blocked due to neglect of contemplation on the life and teachings of Christ.
Another blind imitation is the organized pilgrimage, rather tour, to Holy Land. In the name of pilgrimage to Holy Land people make a tour of Europe. The rich alone has the privilege of going for such pilgrimage to Holy Land and Rome. The blind imitation has affected the religious congregations also. It has become a fashion for priests and religious to go to Jerusalem and Rome during their jubilee year. The same congregations are unwilling to give decent salary to their workers and staff.
The Bishops and superiors of the religious congregations know well the radical changes which have come in the religious and priestly life in Europe and America. Drifting away from the life and teachings of Christ is the cause of this spiritual bankruptcy. The religiosity of rituals, increasing devotions, constructing grottos, shrines and statues do not help anyone to grow in spirituality. Each one should judge his/her action with the question: What would Jesus do if he were here? What is the mind of Christ? What is the heart of Christ?
Spiritual persons do not copy. They do not go with the crowd. The sign of one’s spirituality is creativity. Creativity is possible with critical thinking. They need to develop the art of evaluation and introspection. They would ask constantly: what am I doing with my life? Is this what I should be doing? Is there a better way of using my time and resources?
Spiritual people will never be victims of complacency. Neither they will follow the unproductive routine practices nor be self-righteous. They will be open to new experiments and follow the way of Christ, “let us go to the other side”.(Published on 21st May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 21)