by Dr James Kottoor
Jesus is supposed to be the fulcrum on which everyone who calls him/herself to be a Christian must swing around all throughout his/her life, twenty-four hours a day. He is the role model. He is the leader, we the followers; he is the master, we the servants whom he has raised to the status of his friends. He became a slave, we in contrast become “Peacocks!”
Holy week is the time when Christians around the globe focus their attention solely, so to say, on the person of Jesus on the cross, especially his passion and death. How do we compare ourselves to him? “On bended knees!” could be the best pictorial description of that relationship of the generality of Christians towards Jesus, that is, the relationship of a creature to its creator for everything. When that relationship grows and matures, it may become specific and different for different people from the way they look upon him
Because of the way he has struck me and impressed me, I look upon him in two ways:
- As a friend in need and deed because he said: “I call you friends, not servants anymore.”
- As one who has “emptied himself” to become a servant, nay a slave, to make others masters, rich, gorgeous, great. My way need not be the right, correct, proper or the ideal. The way one looks at him could be as different as there are people and all of them could be right on the principle: “Your faith saves you and my faith saves me” in matters religious.
Here I am concerned with his “emptying himself”, his journey from cow shed to Calvary’s top, to die an ignominious death between two thieves. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna” was just an interlude which got overturned the following day with cries: “crucify him, crucify him.” That was not the final end. It was followed by the resurrection. Then his life’s mission got completed. It then became a life from rages to riches, from earth to heaven, incomprehensible for ordinary mortals and therefore we shy away calling it a “Mystery of God playing with the world of humans like a ball in hand.” We don’t go into the “mystery” as nothing tangible and rational can come out of it and it is beyond humans to imitate.
But we dwell here on his life in the raw, his three years of travel through the dusty roads of Israel doing good to the poor, sick and marginalized, befriending sinners, drunkards and prostitutes and raining down owes on the holier-than-thou sections like scribes, Pharisees, Herodians and the High Priestly class. It is this Jesus we have to confront to study and decide if we can follow or not. What was Jesus for the ordinary folks of his times? He was less ordinary than the ordinary people in looks, gait, dress, title, appellation and behaviour except for the pearls of wisdom that came from his mouth and deeds of compassion and mercy that flowed out of his hands. So ordinary he was, that people asked, “Is he not the son of a Carpenter? What good can come from Nazareth?” etc. So the best description of Jesus is given by St. Paul which I can never get tired of reading and meditating but always found impossible to imitate because it is too tall and steep like Everest to scale it. Let us just read it:
He emptied Himself
“There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person, to be better than you, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other peoples’ interests instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus. His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross. But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names, so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend at the name of Jesus and every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2, 3-11”
The striking words and phrases in it point to what Jesus was and how he appeared to others: “everybody is to be self-effacing”, “his state was divine,” yet he assumed “the condition of a slave,” he “became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross” as a slave. So “God raised him high and gave him a name which is above all other names so that … Every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord…” That is how Paul describes Jesus’ passage from the state of a “slave” to Lordship not in this world but after death. Now compare the pictorial presentation given below of the Church’s ruling class in this world with Jesus in this world. We have to see to believe and we can’t imitate what we have not seen. What do you see below for comparison?
Now you make your own comparison
Just compare our role model gone to heaven on the right and the role models we have on earth now, on the left, to see, follow and imitate. The three ordinary faces of the divine who emptied himself to become an ordinary half-clad or a near-naked human, stands in sticking, damning contrast to the two ordinary mortals dressed up, decked and decorated in extra ordinary finery to put on the appearance of the divine is nearly impossible for any ordinary mortal to swallow.
Just observe, a few, not all, details in the pictorial presentation of the two beatitudes. There is no gainsaying they are overdressed for India’s hot climate, too costly and unaffordable to India’s teeming, all too poor naked Fakirs. What struck me most first were the three pendants (3 chains and lockets) of gold or precious metal hanging from the necks of the beatitudes. They stand out from each other against the law of gravitation in three directions – right, left and centre -- to thrust them to the view of the admiring public. Projecting them separately, do they believe, imagine or pretend those lockets automatically absorb certain magical (magicians do such things) or celestial powers from the air around or heaven to cast a bewitching spell over the viewers?
Hung normally, the law of gravitation must have forced them to hang one over the other, thus allowing only the top one visible to the public. That means a lot of make-up work was done behind the scene, by stitch-up artists and beauty salon experts who usually prepare brides for the wedding moment. When the famous French theologian Congar compared our dressed up bishops and cardinals to painted, popped up and stitched up brides for show and make believe for their wedding day, my thoughts never went into these striking details. This time a close study of the publicity material of the two beatitudes circulated made too many unprintable unholy thoughts penetrate my mind, which I don’t print here.
Brides out of beauty parlour?
Now just imagine, how much time does a bride spend in a beauty parlour to make herself presentable, attractive and alluring to the ordinary mortals who would be coming for her wedding? How many experts could have worked on her and how much time they must have taken to make her ready for a photo finish? It simply baffles my imagination how our divines could find that kind of time to decorate themselves in contrast to our Carpenter of Nazareth who never thought or dreamt of doing it. I don’t intent to comment on each item of the dress and decorations put on – the colourful mitre or head-gear, the costly staff in hand supposed to represent the crook of the shepherd, the pearls studded on the cross to represent the rough wooden cross Jesus carried on both his shoulders etc. I have never seen at close quarters what is hung on those three chains, nor could the ordinary people have ever seen them. Why 3 pendants at all in the first place? So they should explain it for the benefit of the ignorant public. Compare also the belaboured artificial smile on the faces of two beatitudes and the grim, exhausted, tired look on the cross-carrying man from Galilee. I leave the rest to your fertile imagination.
What others have said
I already quoted what a great French theologian spoke of these princes, lords and beatitudes of the church. For a change listen to what St. Bernard said to the Pope of his time, and Popes used to lead crusades those days. Speaking to his former subordinate Eugenius III (pope from 1145-1153)he said:“When the pope, clad in silk, covered with gold and jewels, rides out on his white horse, escorted by soldiers and servants, he looks more like Constantine's successor than St Peter's”. It was from the 4th century AD that the Popes and bishops began to be followers of imperial Pope Constantine than the Fisherman Peter who opted to get crucified head down, since he considered himself unworthy to be crucified like Jesus, with head upwards.
That reign continued till the time Pope John the XXIII who convened the second Vatican Council “to sweep clean the dust of the empire accumulated on the throne of Peter, ever since the time of Constantine”(Pope’s own words) and to carry on the Fisherman’s healing ministry with the “medicine of mercy”. But that went off track under his three successors Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI till the present Pope Francis came. He refused even to wear a papal red shoes saying: “Carnival time is over, it is now time to fast” and took up his abode at St. Martha’s saying good bye to all Papal palatial palaces and runs about in the streets of Rome to repair his crumbling church edifice imitating a Francis of Assisi rebuilding the church of St. Damian, his only goal being to restructure “a poor church for the poor”.
What Francis has said
He himself did not mince words to describe the pompous princely life style of his princely underlings with one telling word; “Peacoking” which he elaborated: "It is sad when we see a man who seeks this office (of the bishop) and does all he can to get it and when he gets it does not serve, instead goes around like a peacock and lives only for his vanity," he moans. In contrast see how a spokesperson for the world Elton John described Francis: “Miracle of humility in an era of Vanity!” Have you seen Francis dressed up in red and purple, ever since his election? In contrast, have you seen our Indian bishops in public without purple splashes all over their bodies? There of course were bishops like Sopan of Daltan Gang of hallowed memory, described as, “curta sporting, cycle peddling, beedi smoking” etc. He was the Chairman of the national Evangelization Seminar in Delhi, dressed in curta, which I attended to report for New Leader, as its editor then.
For Francis rivalry and vainglory are two worms that eat into the vitals of the church like cancer. Rivalry is the urge to project oneself as “better than thou” and vainglory is the desire to be seen as more elegant. What is needed in their place are humility and harmony without seeking our own interests according to Francis. What is needed is the attitude of St.Martin de Pores who “felt that all others, even the greatest sinners, were superior to him. He really felt this” according to Vatican radio.
Example from US
A fourth picturesque eye-opener is about US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was prefect of the Apostolic Signatura that is, president of the Vatican’s supreme court, most powerful office, ”whose habit of dressing up like a Christmas tree at Latin Masses infuriated many” including Francis”. When fully dressed up, he used to look like a fully decorated and lit up “Christmas Tree”, so the provocative comment. According to Damian Thompson, writing in Deccan Chronicle, Burke who made headlines for his comment: about church as “rudderless ship” under Francis, got the sack of his life from his top post in Vatican and given an acolyte like post instead, proving Francis can be damagingly strong, that he can kill you with his kisses.
Still another example of how people are watching you dear Indian bishops: Someone writing in Malayalam compares an Archbishop transported majestically to Chicago to a Trichur Tuskar decked in glory, but for what? “To bless a moneyed man’s daughter’s wedding”. A Kerala bishop officiating a marriage in Chicago was compared to a ‘Tichur Pooram’ where tallest elephants with their foreheads decorated to shine with precious metals to look heavenly are led in procession to the accompaniment of shining umbrellas and hired band troops. Even after publishing such articles in Emalayalee, New York, Archbishops from Kerala are hired for such functions at a fabulous price and they go.
Pudding at the end of a sumptuous dinner is to leave some sweet taste in the mouth and so it must be only a spoon full and not plate full, “a little more than a little is by much too much,” in Shakespearian language. So I don’t bore you with more examples.
Learn to empty ourselves
The theme of our reflection has been how to get the whole Church which includes you and me, especially its leadership to imitate Jesus who emptied himself, lived an ordinary life wearing a tunic, on which they cast lots after his death to get it. He didn’t have even a postal address unlike those in Kerala who build fifty crore church complexes to exhibit their address and money power. So what we want to beg our church leadership is to openly declare that they give up once and for all, their imperial life style in all its varieties of gorgeous clerical dress, all honorific titles and appellation and start living an ordinary person’s life imitating Jesus or persons like Gandhiji, Mother Theresa, Fr. Beschi, Fr. Damian of Molokai, the living example of Pope Francis who gave up all the luxuries of the Papal palace and finally to declare a moratorium on all church building in brick and mortar and start rebuilding crumbling humans (the living temples of God) which Jesus was busy building and rebuilding all through his public life.
It should not be like the public declaration for transparency, accountability, dialogue etc. which they made at the CBCI seminar in Bangalore. None of them, they are going to put into practice. They did that at Bangalore to gain time and to close the mouth of critics at least for some time. In case they refuse to respond in word and deed to this final pleading call, just dump in the dust bin of history the present crumbling hierarchical pyramidal structure which has already lived much more than its shell life anyway, besides being a counter witness to Jesus and his message. Follow instead the light of Conscience God has given to all of us to find and walk the true path which is Jesus. “I am the path, the life and light” he has assured. He who follows him honestly will never walk in darkness but will have peace of mind and soul both in this world and in the next. If Jesus has empties himself to become not only an ordinary human but a “slave” in the eyes of the world, no honest follower of him has any other option if he wants to bear witness to him in this life. Happy Easter! Join the band of a Resurrected People of CCV.