By Varghese Alengaden
Failure to contemplate on the sacredness of God’s call and mission by the consecrated men and women and those in leadership is the cause for the increasing scandals and stagnancy in the Church. A vast majority of them have drifted away from the way of Christ.
The Church leadership has failed not only to follow the Good Shepherd who led the sheep from the front and laid down His life for the sheep. The modern shepherds do not have the “smell of the sheep” because they are alienated from their flock.
The recent developments which led to the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal could have been avoided if the Church leadership had used their wisdom to settle the conflicts internally from the beginning. Even now those who are in leadership do not read the writings on the wall. Instead of making an honest review of the life and structure of the church and religious congregations based on the life and teachings of Christ, self-righteous leaders are committing more blunders that further damage the mission of Christ.
The attempt to control and punish prophetic nuns and priests who expressed solidarity with the protesting nuns for justice would be damaging the image of the church further.
While meditating on the call, mission and vision of the consecrated men and women two texts from the Bible stand out clearly explaining the purpose of their commitment ; one from the Old Testament and the other from the New Testament.
1. Call to be a prophet:
The text which is often used from the Old Testament regarding call and mission is, “I called you before you were formed in your mother’s womb and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:4).
Meditation on this text would provide clarity about the vision and mission of the consecrated men and women in the Church. Vocation is a sacred call, a call directly from God and a mission entrusted by Him. It is both a privilege and responsibility. The call is for a difficult task, to be a prophet to the NATIONS. Call and mission of God is beyond an exclusive caste, region or nationality.
Prophetic mission is tough and dangerous. Hence Jeremiah resisted making the excuse of being a young boy. God did not accept his excuses, instead entrusted him with a tough mission of speaking unpleasant things to the Jewish people who had been unfaithful to Him. He faced many sufferings. God was very frank in warning Jeremiah of the crisis he would be facing, “ Listen Jeremiah, all people will be against you, the Kings of Judha, the officials, the priests and all people of the land” (Jer: 17).
These texts make the purpose of God’s call and mission very clear. The text also provides the broad and inclusive vision with which one has to carry out God’s mission. Vocation is a call to be prophet to the NATIONS. It is a call for working for universal solidarity. If consecrated men and women of the Church and their leaders understand this dimension they would not make the mission of the Church so limited and fragmented. Why should there be so many divisions and conflicts in the name of caste, language, rites, and nationalities? Isn’t it a distortion of God’s call and mission?
A prophet is the conscience of the society. Hence he is expected to be fearless to speak the truth and condemn all injustice and corruption. Prophet does not make compromises on values. As the great prophet St. John Baptist defines the mission of prophet as “a cry in the wilderness”, genuine prophets do not get tired of speaking and reprimanding. They continue speaking irrespective of rejection, indifference, insults and persecution.
Today the Church has plenty of priests and high priests. Unfortunately Church has no prophets. Hence hardly we find anyone who speaks against corruption and immorality neither within the Church nor in the society. The spiritual movement which Jesus established through His prophetic life was distorted into a cultic religion with innumerable rituals out dated vows. Instead of training prophets to act as conscience of the society Church has multiplied cultic priests with unquestionable power and wealth. The teachings of Christ are misinterpreted to sustain a hierarchy dominated imperial structure. Isn’t it a distortion of sacred call of God?
Since the prophetic dimension of the disciples was ignored no one dares to speak against corruption and immorality for fear of alienation and persecution. Hence sins of consecrated men and women multiply. Silence and indifference are considered virtues. Isn’t it a distortion of call and mission of God?
2. Call to bear lasting fruit:
The text from the NT related to vocation and mission is, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, fruit that will last” Jn 15:16. Christ makes it clear that the call of every consecrated man and woman is His own choice, a preferential option. He has made for each one . Like in the previous text from OT the call is for a very important mission which has to be productive. Jesus wants His disciples to bear LASTING FRUITS to make lasting impact in the world.
Over 100,000 of consecrated men and women are working hard with minimum facilities through thousands of educational institutions , hospitals and social work programs to serve people in this large country. Even though the Christian community is only 2.5 percent of the 1.3 billion population of India it provides more than 28 percent of service in various fields. The irony is that the Church suffers opposition, rejection, harassment and a process of elimination.
The Church does produce much fruits from its institutions. We are proud of the innumerable professionals who have come out of our institutions. Yet what is the LASTING fruit that the Church produced in the last 100 years? Can we name a single person who made an outstanding contribution and the whole country knows and recognizes him/her and in turn he/she gives credit to any priests or religious for his/her achievement?
The lasting fruit can be produced only when we have lasting vision. How many of our consecrated men and women constantly contemplate on this task of bearing lasting fruit? Only when we take up our mission with lasting vision we will explore the ways and means to produce lasting fruits, men and women who will make a lasting impact in the world.
Unfortunately neither those who are in leadership position in the church nor individuals who work in various ministries have any lasting vision. Mostly all are preoccupied and busy with traditional routine practices which are outdated and unproductive.
Those who are holding responsibilities are so stagnant and stubborn that they neither want to make any efforts to update themselves nor look for assistance and advice from experienced persons. Self-righteousness and complacency block any possibility for renewal. Isn’t it a distortion of the call and mission of God?
3. Call to follow Christ not to worship:
Jesus asked his disciples to go out to the whole world and make disciples. A disciple is one who follows the way of Christ, His life example and teachings. He asked them to baptize every one into the new way of life, the way of loving one another as Christ did. Jesus launched a new spiritual movement to counter the oppressive cultic Jewish religion. Jesus wanted his disciples to be identified by their love for one another. Early Christians followed Christ. Identity of a disciple of Christ is manifested in the values which he/she practices, such as, love, forgiveness, justice, equality, freedom and defending dignity of all human beings.
When following Christ by practicing His values became difficult the distortion took place. Instead of following the way of Christ people started worshiping Him. They started all kinds of cultic practices and legal system which Jesus had condemned. Jewish legacy of ritualism replaced the way of life based on the values of Christ. Prophetic mission was replaced by royal priesthood as presented in the Gospels. The liberal spiritual way of Christ was made complicated by dogmas and laws. Priestocracy invented rituals, rules and dogmas to control and condition the common people. Religion became a business and the church institutions promoted a market culture for profit. Isn’t it a distortion of call and mission of God?
The scandals caused by the consecrated persons and the leaders of the church are the result of this drifting away from their sacred call and the mission entrusted by Christ. The attacks by the hostile forces on the church institutions and personnel are because of the failure of Christ’s chosen disciples to be the salt of the earth.
Jesus had warned His disciples two thousand years ago about the consequences of losing the saltiness and its consequence of being thrown out to be trampled. We are responsible for the stagnancy and scandals. We have drifted away from the way of Christ. We have distorted the simple teachings of Christ to exploit the common people. Two thousand years ago Jesus had said to those who betray his teachings and cause scandal to simple people to drown themselves in the sea. Instead of killing themselves these hypocrites are defending themselves with money power and political influence.
It is a pity that the leaders of women religious, who know the harassment and atrocities many of their nuns suffer at the hands of male dominated church, take action against those who show courage to speak up like prophets. The superiors should be happy to see their members respond to their call to be prophets. It is time to repent and return to the way of Christ so that the New Jerusalem, the Church of Christ, may not be destroyed.