-Dr Rosemary Varghese
When they saw the star they rejoiced with great delight- Mathew 2:10
The story of the Magi never fails to enchant adults and children alike, especially as the season of Christmas sets in. The three kings were in search of the baby who was ordained to be King of the Jews and they were guided by a star all the way from Persia. On the way, however, their own judgement asserted itself as they decided to abandon the direction of the star. They headed for Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city where kings usually reside. As soon as they entered the city, the star disappeared. They met King Herod and asked him for the right direction, but he couldn’t help them. They set out, their eyes searching once again for the lost star. To their greatest delight, the star appeared again and led them to Bethlehem, where the Child lay in a humble manger.
The season of Advent has commenced, and all of us have also begun our journey to see Child Jesus. Our star of Bethlehem is His Word which clearly spells out the direction we are to take to find the Saviour. Unfortunately, this journey has begun on a bad note for those who belong to my archdiocese- Ernakulam Angamaly.
On the first Sunday of Advent at St Mary’s Basilica Ernakulam, the battlelines were drawn once again. The Apostolic Administrator decided to celebrate Holy Mass in the unified liturgical mode to mark the beginning of the liturgical year. In anticipation of what he may have to face from Christ’s faithful followers in the opposite camp, he came with a heavy police escort to offer Holy Mass. The two factions defiantly faced each other. The gates of the Basilica were locked in the face of the Bishop. The priests in the church triumphantly offered Holy Mass in the liturgical mode they supported. Their allied group attended the service after they had finished with slogan shouting and bad-mouthing the Bishop and his cohort. In return, the Bishop’s supporters vandalized the Church property, and ensured that vengeance was carried out in full measure. The final nail on the coffin of Christ’s love was driven in as the police locked the Cathedral in the wake of the violence and anarchy in the Church premises. Now the police department will decide when these ardent followers of Christ will offer Holy Mass in the church.
If we were to listen carefully, we would surely hear Satan’s roar of triumph as he annexed this great seat of worship from the Lord, for the second time this year. There is a sense of déjà vu among the common believers as we painfully remember the course of events at the same venue during Holy Week and Easter Week just a few months back. From that time upto now, the noose around the fundamental Christian principles of love and forgiveness has steadily tightened to choking point.
Everyday we listen to powerful arguments justifying each one’s position on the issue. On the one hand, the Apostolic Administrator has been given the responsibility of convincing a stubborn section of priests and laity to obey the Pope’s order and accept the Synod’s decision on the liturgical mode. Having failed against the recalcitrant mob time and again, he decided to give them a taste of their own medicine by forcing the Synod Mass on them last Sunday. The outcome was predictable, proving to the world that we believe in vengeance—an eye for an eye is our guiding principle.
On the other hand, the rebel group of priests and laity lay out eloquent and convincing arguments to justify their stand. They speak of how the liturgical mode they support is globally more acceptable, and is in step with the times. They speak of democratic principles of discussion and consultation which were not adhered to when the synod took a decision and tried to forcefeed them with it.
Even as each group justifies their stand on the issue, neither is ready to follow God’s Word to solve the problem. I would like to put down two quotations from the Bible that may shed light on how far the shepherds of the flock have wandered away from the fold. The first is about the power that Jesus Christ placed in the hands of Peter, and in succession, with the Pope
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”… Mathew 16:18-19
This is what the Lord commanded- absolute authority with His chosen representative. There is no mention of democracy and freedom for the shepherds of the Church to choose their own path in matters of faith. However old-fashioned or dated this may seem to some, this is God’s Word and if we are to protect our Church from the forces of evil, we have to stand by what is written in the Bible.
The second quotation is from Acts 20. As Paul bid farewell to the Ephesians, his last message to the elders of the Church is a fitting advice to all the Church leaders at the helm of the Ernakulam-Angamaly controversy.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Acts 20:28-31
Any actions that incite violence and hatred are not from the Holy Spirit. Those with selfish motives will soon become victims of the evil spirit. Slowly , but surely, we will be led away, out of the reach of His grace. As it is, the Holy Mass has been knocked off from the priority list of prayer and worship. It will only be offered if the conditions imposed by each faction are met. Once again, a golden calf is being molded into shape as it happened with the Israelites in Exodus 32. They contributed all their gold ornaments towards the creation of this idol, which they preferred to worship rather than their Creator. Today, attractive ideas and principles, pride and ego have all been thrown into a melting pot from both sides, and an ugly idol has emerged that seeks to destroy God and His Word. It has already taken control over the conduct of Holy Mass. It asserts its conditions through those who decide when, if and how they will partake in the eucharistic celebration.
Inspite of the darkening clouds in the horizon, the Star of Bethlehem gives us all hope during this season of advent, as we prepare our hearts to receive our Saviour. Amidst the violence and chaos that reigns at our Church, we may have lost track of its shining light temporarily, but as we ask the Lord to guide us, it will surely lead us to Bethlehem. Let us come together as a community in prayer and fasting, laying our genuine issues humbly before the Lord and asking for a solution “….. for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” – Joel 2:13