An open letter to the priests of my diocese—Ernakulam-Angamaly
-Dr Rosemary Varghese
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Harbour at Ernakulam St Mary’s Basilica. I had waited in anticipation for the past week to join the devotional festivities and procession on this very special day, but this morning there was an unusual hesitation within me, one which finally led me to see Holy Mass at a Latin Church in the neighborhood.
Every year this feast has been celebrated with great devotion and grandeur by the large Syrian Catholic community that form the parish under this Basilica. And yet, today there was a dark shadow over the festivities. Too much that was unchristian had happened on that holy ground where Mother Mary’s statue was being taken in procession. The days preceding the feast were rife with alarming spiritual unrest at the church premises. Social media publicized the painful scenes of the Apostolic Administrator Mar Andrews Thazhath walking out of a meeting with a large police escort amidst a slogan- shouting population hurling abuses at the Bishop. The Hindu newspaper dated October 1st carried the photograph of the Bishop’s circular being burnt in public view. Loud, threatening speeches against the Bishop replaced the rhythm of prayers and hymns that usually accompanied the pre-festival celebrations.
Within the quiet confines of Infant Jesus Church this morning, I prayed deeply and sincerely for my parish and my diocese, that peace may prevail and that it may be restored to its former spiritual stature. In my heart I wished I could do something about this destructive wave that had overtaken my church and parish. An astonishing answer to my prayer came in the form of the First Reading at Holy Mass. The reading was from the Book of Habakkuk Ch1:2-3 and Ch 2:2-4
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness
It was as though my prayer and the Lord’s reply were encompassed in His Word. This is what has inspired me to write to you. Though I am a little known member of this parish, God has given me this duty, much in the same way as He gave David a bag of stones to defeat the giant Goliath. The difference is that He has not given me stones but the living Word of God “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”-Hebrews 4:12
Much has happened over the past months in this strife-ridden archdiocese and most of the Kerala Christian community is well aware of this. It almost runs in parallel with the parable of the vineyard that Jesus recounted in Mark 12. The beautiful vineyard that God planted in this archdiocese was given to farmers He trusted. When it was time to pluck the fruit God sent His servants, but they were beaten and sent away. The parable goes on to relate that the son and heir was finally sent, and the farmers killed him. We pray that this may not happen at the hands of the Lord’s shepherds and sheep who stand guilty of being unfaithful to God’s Word.
If, as a priest of this Archdiocese, you happen to read this open letter addressed to you, you may turn to me with many questions. The questions could concern the Synod’s decision, the Cardinal’s complicity in unethical land deals, the uncompromising stand of the Apostolic administrator and many more. I am not here to justify anyone’s actions. My knowledge of the intricate details involved is minimal. All I can remind you of, is that you have become priests after taking a vow of obedience to the hierarchy. This has been cast aside entirely in this dispute concerning the liturgical mode of Holy Mass as directed by the Pope. You may have reasons to justify your stand, and, as a respected and highly educated class, your reasoning would be logical and, in many ways, justified.
What is not justified and completely out of line is the manner in which you have expressed yourself in this controversy. It is far away from what you preach from the pulpit in church. It is even farther away from the Lord’s Word in Mathew 5:23- So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Even if it is your brother who is to blame, your reconciliation is what is required to be worthy of offering this great and holy sacrifice of Holy Mass to God at the altar. Liturgical modes regarding the best way to offer this living sacrifice are issues that lie at the periphery. How could those issues cloud your conscience to such an extent that the church has become the worst kind of battleground? Where is Jesus Christ in a church filled with anger and violence and unforgiveness? How pleased would He be with the outcome, if you finally do win your battle for the particular liturgical mode? Will a victory gained at the cost of so much hostility be worthwhile for you. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Mathew 16:26
Another question you may have for me is what I would like to clarify now, before I conclude. Which side do I belong to? Am I on the side of those who want the Pope’s order to be put into action, or on the side of the priests of my archdiocese? The answer is that I belong to neither side. I belong to a wide but largely silent population of lay persons who go for daily Holy Mass with a deep and fervent belief and faith that Calvary comes alive there, and we can receive the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ. Personally, I am ready to accept whichever liturgical mode is decided upon by the church hierarchy. The divine miracle that takes place during every Holy Mass is what matters most, along with the liturgy of the Word that instructs us on how to follow His Way. Issues regarding the acceptable liturgical code only add to the ceremony of the spiritual sacrifice. They are not significant in any other way.
During this month of October, let us join hands at the feet of Mother Mary and say the rosary entreating her to intercede for us to set things right. Things have come this far, but never think of this as a point of no return. If we have strayed away from His Word and His Way, there is still time to return to the Father. Issues that break relationships cannot take precedence over the Lord’s command of love. Let us rise above selfish motives and unsatisfied egos and walk once again in the light of the Lord.