Among the many deeds of Saint Kuriakose Chavara Elias, a reformist priest in many ways, one initiative stands out. He lived at a time when education remained unreachable for the poor and marginalized. The priest realised that so long as a square meal was out-of-the-way for poor children, it was meaningless to talk about their education. He introduced the concept of rice gruel at noon (many decades before governments thought of mid-day meal in schools) in schools to the poverty-stricken children. This was just one of the umpteen examples of his service to the poor, the illiterate and the destitute which was the hallmark of his life. His life was centred on the belief that “days on which you have not rendered any good to others, will not be reckoned in the book of your life”.
A cursory glance at the lives of those who have been ‘enrolled among the saints’ will reveal one factor common to them. They led an austere life, devoid of any ostentatious display of wealth. “In imitation of Jesus, she helped the poor, nursed the sick, visited and comforted the lonely people of her parish,” said Vatican News about Mariam Theresa who is among the latest to be added to the list of saints. “She spent her life bowing down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity," said Pope Francis about Mother Teresa, before elevating her to sainthood. None of the saints walked a grandiose path nor have they wasted time building castles for Christ. Sainthood was bestowed on them for their humane face and prayerful life, not for the materialistic possessions amassed by them.
Here comes the irony. If saints are role models for the Church hierarchy and the faithful, it makes sense to follow in their footsteps. None of the saints is known to have taken a pompous path in their life. Instead, their road to sainthood is marked with meeting God in ordinary mortals and lending a helping hand to those in dire straits. But followers of these Saints deviate from this path. They forget all those values and virtues for which the Saints stood for. It will not be an exaggeration to state that the lavish functions to celebrate ‘sainthood’ will make the saints turn in their grave. Listen to the voices of saints; they exhort us to channel the resources -- meant to honour them -- to serve the poor, the destitute and the illiterate because they stood for such causes.
The most appropriate tribute to the Saints is not celebrating their sainthood with pomp and show, but taking a leaf out of their lives. They had neither gone after power and pelf nor went overboard on material possessions. No Pope has ever raised anyone ‘to be venerated at the altar’ for building big churches or adding materialistic possessions to the Church. They were epitomes of simplicity and inspired people around them with their noble works. In fact, the pomp and show we put up in the name of saints would be nothing but a big embarrassment for them.(Published on 21st October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 43)