Following the revolutionary teachings of the second Vatican council forty years ago the late Bishop Clemens of Sagar diocese had introduced celebration of the feast of Christ the King on the day when the whole country celebrated Diwali festival. The cathedral church and bishop’s house were painted and decorated with lights. Eucharistic procession was conducted around the cathedral and the bishop house, as it was done on the feast of Christ the King. I recall how as a young parish priest I had argued with him against this ‘pagan’ practice. Justifying this change Bishop Clemens used to explain, “Let us join the whole nation in the celebration of festival of lights proclaiming Christ as the light of the world. The idea of kingship is outdated. Moreover it is more appealing to present Christ as the light of the world than as a king. Throughout his life Christ presented himself as a servant, good shepherd and prophet. This is the way we need to insert ourselves into the culture of the country. In reality when we celebrate the kingship of Christ we are commemorating the insult the Roman soldiers inflicted on Jesus and the false accusation of sedition the Jewish hierarchy reported to Pontius Pilate to eliminate Jesus.
Bishop Clemens was a person who wanted to put into practice the teachings of second Vatican Council. When he founded a religious congregation 36 years ago he wanted the sisters to wear sari as part of inculturation. Because of strong opposition from the part of the clergy in the diocese he reluctantly opted for the traditional western ‘habit’ hoping to adopt into ‘sari’ when it becomes the accepted dress of more congregations. Today when the large majority of the congregations in the country have adopted secular dress, this congregation is trying to prove the legacy of its founder in the traditional western outfit.
When there was conflict about the liturgical rites among the bishops and theologians Bishop Clemens always stood up for an ‘Indian Rite’, for the church in India. Though he was the bishop of a Syro-Malabar rite he followed a liberal policy with regards to liturgy and encouraged his priests to be liberal and people friendly in their liturgical and pastoral practices. Even after 26 years of his demise Bishop Clemens remains a model bishop in many aspects and his diocese was a model diocese. (Read the book” A Model Bishop for a Model Diocese” to know more about the revolutionary style of Bishop Clemens )
Unfortunately after fifty years of second Vatican Council neither the hierarchy nor the clergy give any importance to the teachings of this great Council. In practice over the years the Church has reversed to the pre Vatican Second practices and thinking. The influence of the fanatic Pentecostal and rigid Protestant groups have developed fundamentalist groups within the Catholic Church. The retreat centres and ‘prayer groups’ have not only influenced the simple laity and religious but drugged them with beliefs and rituals which are contrary to the teachings of second Vatican Council. Bishops and clergy are happy with these groups because they make the people docile and prevent them from becoming “Prophet to the nations” (Jer: 1). People have become very active and busy with various petty devotions neglecting their mission of bearing “lasting fruits” (Jn: 15).
In the fast changing socio-political scenario, instead of entering into the mainstream of the society, the clergy and religious are adopting a ghetto mentality and closing themselves in the church campus. An enlightened nun when she was appointed as the superior of a community had exhibited pictures of various national leaders on the walls of the convent for the visitors to see. It created positive feelings in the visitors especially people of other faiths. When she was transferred the first thing the new superior did was to remove all those pictures.
Similarly a bishop of a north Indian diocese issued orders not to keep pictures of any other religious saints in their schools and institutions. He also forbade the use of scriptures of other religions in the school assembly. All the schools in his diocese which have 99 percent children of other religions should only read from the Bible. Most of the Christian schools still follow the colonial practice of making the children of other religions to recite Christian prayers and go to the church to participate in the rituals. They consider these practices as evangelization. A vast majority of our clergy and religious are ignorant of the hostile campaign of the Hindu fundamentalist groups against Christians.
Another retreat preacher asked the sisters of a congregation to stop the practice of doing aarati with light and flowers during the community prayer saying that they are Hindu practices which are against the teachings of the Church. A young priest who preached retreat for another community of sisters made them to recite as many rosaries as possible during the day. The Sisters started reciting rosary together during the community meals, while working in the garden and cutting vegetables in the kitchen. The simple nuns blindly follow these preachers until another preacher asks them to do something else.
Seeing the present trend in the church and priorities of the clergy, religious and the hierarchy, one gets the impression that the Church is going back to the days before 2nd Vatican Council.
The bishops, priests and religious do not ask the basic question to themselves, “What would Christ do if he were here? What is the mind of Christ? What is the heart of Christ?”. They have lost their direction because they have drifted away from Christ. A Christo-centric vision and spirituality alone can renew the lives of people and make the Church more relevant in the fast changing socio-political and cultural milieu.
The failure from the part of the church personnel and leaders to learn and analyse the changing socio-political context and the threats before the church is the main reason for the stagnation and disintegration of the church. As long as the church personnel do not realize the threats they will not change their ways. Like an ostrich which buries its head in the sand to be killed, the church will have self-destruction and death because of self-righteousness and complacency. Many who are in leadership positions do not feel the urgency to act because they do not see any danger in their life time.(Published on 06th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 10)#