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The M Factor

The M Factor

Sorry guys, but this is not about Modi, even though he may be the major factor in modern India’s political discourse. This is rather about the 4 M Factor; something that I first heard about from a foreign lady missionary of the Salvation Army 40 years ago. Her wisdom has remained etched in my memory all these years.

The 4 M Factor that she had referred to was – Man, Movement, Machine and Monument. This is the progression or evolution of many organizations. It begins with a Man, a person with a vision. That vision inspires others as followers or disciples. It then becomes a Movement. To maintain order this free flowing Movement then needs rules and regulations to avoid confusion, working at cross purposes, or challenging the chain of command.

Like Jesuit philosopher’s famous story of the Guru’s cat, the cat assumes more importance and significance than the reason for which it was there. In like manner the Man and Movement are soon forgotten as the members go through the mechanical motions of keeping the organization alive. This is when it has entered the third stage of the Machine – an inert and unthinking object that can only operate in a limited sphere, devoid of meaning. It is just going through the motions.

Herein lies the danger. The red flag is up. Once one loses sight of the Man, his mission and vision, the Movement loses momentum. Notice how many ‘M’s I am using, to assist easy memory recall. There goes another M!

If a vibrant Movement degenerates into an inert Machine, without reverting to the Man at its centre, it is in real danger of becoming an inert Monument. Unfortunately, a large number of tourists, and even pilgrims, like Monuments. They are comfortable with them because they don’t challenge them in the present; but can only take pride in a glorious past – a rich tradition!

Do you see what I am getting at? This is the tragedy (not tradition) of the Catholic Church, the Congress Party, and the story or history of several once vibrant organizations. Take Christianity. It began with a man, with a vision and mission. He attracted disciples, and with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost it became a vibrant Movement. In the first flush of the Holy Spirit it flourished for 300 years, despite horrific persecution.

With Emperor Constantine came the third stage of setting up a State-like machinery. The persecuted underdogs became the new rulers. Temporal power went to their heads, diluting their original spiritual vibrancy.

Cynical church historians would have us believe that it was the death knell of Christianity that now became Christendom. I do not subscribe to the black and white binary, but would rather believe in the Fifty Shades of Grey. The easiest thing to do, and one’s safest bet, is to simply blame the past for all that ails the present.

Over centuries the Catholic Church evolved with a mix of Man, Movement and Machine. Power makes us proud and blind. So the Church did not know how to tackle the Great Schism of the East in the eleventh century, the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the French Revolution in the eighteenth century; followed by the Marxist, industrial, information, gender and sexual revolutions. The last straw on the camel’s back was the two World Wars that shattered people’s trust, especially in organized religion. Churches were empty. They had become magnificent Monuments for camera toting tourists, rather than being “My father’s house shall be called a house of prayer” (cf Mat 21:13). It was then that Time magazine in 1966 published its cover page “IS GOD DEAD?”

Pope John XXIII had inherited a monumental church. He took up the gauntlet to revive and transform it through aggiornamento (updating). To cut a long story short he gave us Vatican II that overturned several pet theories and empty traditions. It sought a return to the source, the Bible and Jesus. This in turn led to new movements like the Charismatic Renewal, Liberation Theology, Ecumenism and Inter-religious dialogue, and Inculturation. Here again the weeds of power, pride and insecurity led to the gradual stifling of these movements. Fifty Five years after Vatican II the Catholic Church is again in danger of becoming a Monument, despite Pope Francis’ valiant efforts and personal example.

The universal church has also been delivered a sledge hammer blow through clerical paedophilia. India has not remained unscathed; with a bishop accused of gang-raping a nun, and another dismissed for open concubinage. There is also the growing resentment against a lack of accountability and transparency in financial dealings, from Jalandhar in the north to Ernakulam in the south. Our young people are leaving the church like rats deserting a sinking ship.

The Congress Party is also going through the throes of the 4M Factor. However, that would involve a lengthy diatribe that is not the purpose of this article. It was in fact occasioned by the impending Centenary of the All India Catholic Union (AICU), which is celebrating it later this month in Delhi (1919-2019). I was its National President from 1990-94, when we celebrated its Platinum Jubilee with the theme “Towards an Adult Church”. I have since distanced myself from the AICU for various reasons, but also because I believe that former office bearers should give the present dispensation the freedom to function.

Nevertheless I hope and pray that at this Centenary the AICU will seek to know what the “Spirit is saying to the churches” (cf Rev 3:22) through the 4 M Factor. Without being judgmental I feel that it has attained the level of a Machine, and needs to return to the Man, if it does not want to end up as a Monument. The Catholic Church is a past master at celebrations devoid of deliberations or discernment. It blindly follows traditions laid down by others like the ubiquitous Guru’s Cat. The AICU should not fall into that trap.

There are a couple of thoughts that I would like the AICU to reflect upon while celebrating its centenary. It was born in the era of Catholic Action that involved the laity assisting the clergy in their apostolic mission. Vatican II changed that. The laity are prophet, priest and king in their own right by virtue of their baptism; as per the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. Canon Law also clearly provides for the autonomy of Catholic Associations (CAs), of which the AICU is a federal body. Hence the AICU and the CAs should not see themselves as appendages or assistants of the hierarchy/ clergy. Nor should they always be looking for a nod of approval from them. If necessary, older CAs, established before Vatican II, need to amend their constitutions accordingly, and not be subservient to the hierarchy.

The second issue is that of identity. Many bishops and priests even, conveniently choose not to see the difference between parish councils (PCs) and CAs, even though Canon Law has express provisions for both of them. They should be seen as complementary, not competitive.

Without getting into specifics let it suffice to say that PCs are meant for internal ecclesiastical functions like parish feasts, or religious processions. In contrast, CAs are expected to function in temporal or secular affairs – socio-economic, political, environmental, social justice and similar issues. They have a far wider canvas than the PCs.

It was for this reason that in my tenure we had made far reaching changes in the AICU constitution, to model it along secular parameters like State and District; rather than ecclesiastical regions and dioceses. However, I am not sure if many have understood this paradigm shift.

The AICU needs to be very clear about its status, mission, identity and role, else it be mistaken for one more pious association. Only then can it fulfil the task entrusted to it. In today’s volatile and often hostile political atmosphere we need an organization like the AICU more than ever before. That is what drove the Men that founded the AICU; though the adversaries may have changed. 

My humble prayers and best wishes for the AICU, as it celebrates its Centenary. May it be ever vigilant, which is the eternal price of freedom; and may it not fall prey to the 4 M Factor.

(Published on 19th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 34)