-Dr Rosemary Varghese
I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, -Isaiah 6:5
The Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church concluded with a firm decision to call upon the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese to conform to the unified liturgical mode for Holy Mass. The circular issued soon after, specifically uses the term ‘illicit’ in the context of celebrating Holy Mass facing the people , as is being continued in the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese .
The immediate reaction was a massive rally and public meeting led by the Vicar of St Mary’s Basilica. It was termed as an act of penance and reparation for the desecration of the altar on Christmas Eve. In other words, the priests and laity who gathered in support of the Basilica clergy, were asking God’s forgiveness for the supporters of Bishop Andrews Thazhath , who were accused of this sacrilegious act of vandalism. This was followed by loud and fervent prayers to God to heed to their request for the restoration of Holy Mass in the liturgical mode they supported, i.e. facing the laity.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge regarding this grave matter. It has thrown up some unpalatable realities about the Church authorities and leadership on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, in professional parlance, this can be considered as a classic case of weak leadership in handling and managing change. To enumerate a few examples of mismanagement, we know that a number of key questions asked to the authorities in Rome by the protesting clergy remained unanswered. The step-by-step communication strategy that the Synod should have adopted while contemplating a change in liturgical practices was ignored. Added to this was the point-blank rejection of the request for time to bring about a consensus that was proposed by the former Archbishop of the diocese in dispute. The situation had all the ingredients of an imminent collapse of organizational machinery, and , as can be expected, the problem still remains unsolved.
On the other hand, the priests and laity of Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese threw away every Christian precept they had stood for and preached from the pulpit, set aside the vows of priesthood, discarded the Word of God with complete abandon and lashed out against the Synodal authorities and the Cardinal. They used every political tool in the book, creating a law-and-order situation within the Church and its premises. Their final act of sacrilege was a relay Mass on Christmas Eve where they did not hesitate to use the Holy Mass as just another tool to fight the enemy. In its virulence, it matched the sacrilege that followed by the lay supporters of the opposite camp.
The time for penance and prayer is overdue. As a community we have sinned against the Lord. We have desecrated His temple and filled it with acts of hatred and violence. We cannot help remembering the Words of Jesus when He cleansed the temple and drove away the moneylenders saying -Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'-Mark 11:17. What have we made of St Mary’s Basilica? It remains locked and bolted, unworthy of welcoming Baby Jesus at Christmas, unable to lead Christ’s followers to partake in His glorious resurrection at Easter. The penance for this must come from our hearts, with the sincere realization of how much we have sinned against the Lord. Let us not try to remove the speck of dust in our brother’s eye without noticing the log in our own eyes. As Isaiah cried out to the Lord, we too must come to the realization that we have unclean lips, and we dwell amongst people of unclean lips.
Somewhere down the line, we have completely lost our bearings. To find our way back, we must understand what made us turn away so completely from God’s path. Have we made an idol out of the liturgical mode we support? Has it taken the place of God and His infinite love in our minds? In order to win our battle, what have we lost?
To the priests of my diocese, I cannot help but say that you have laid aside your primary role as shepherds of the flock of Christ. Instead , you encourage and nurture violence and hatred. So much so that the Lord refuses to accept your sacrifice anymore in your main church. You have called upon your supporters to pray that you win this liturgical battle. Surely you are aware that the Lord has taught us a different mode of prayer, one that always says ‘Thy Will be done on earth and in heaven’. Does that not matter anymore to the leadership of Ernakulam Angamaly diocese?
If not from the Lord’s prayer, we must at least learn from how He prayed to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane. There He was begging for His life-‘Lord take this cup from me,’ but He added, ‘let not my will but thine be done.’ God’s Will was done. He was crucified by common criminals as a ransom for our sins. This is our God. He taught us how to pray even as He freed us from the yoke of evil and sin.
Instead of public rallies and protest marches, God’s Word tells us to pray privately. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men……... But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen-Mathew 6
:5-6. In that silence, God speaks to us and we will see the path He directs us to take.
We are welcome anytime to return to Him as long as we follow His path. Through the great prophet Isaiah, He speaks to us today. He shows us how we can return to Him. He seeks us out as His lost sheep. May we be blest with the grace to hear His call.
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.[a] Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.