“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” -John3:9
St John’s Gospel relates the story of an interesting interlude between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus, a well-known Pharisee and member of the Jewish Council. Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi, a title used for religious teachers in Israel, and hails Him as a Teacher come from God. In return, Jesus calls him a ‘teacher of Israel’, but adds that his spiritual understanding of profound religious truths is, at best, severely stunted.
As we celebrate Teacher’s Day, commemorating the birth anniversary of one of India’s greatest teachers, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. this biblical platform helps us to get an overview of what we, as Catholic religious and laity, have learnt from our Divine Teacher, the High Priest from heaven, and whether our understanding is good enough to guide others to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The crisis in the Syro-Malabar church in Kerala still continues unabated, with the Ernakulam St Mary’s Basilica shut down to public services from last Christmas Eve. The Synod is determined to push the decision regarding liturgical practices in the face of stiff resistance from the priests of the Ernakulam -Angamaly diocese. No peaceful solution is in sight. Heated arguments from both factions continue to be exchanged on social media channels. The laity have lost their sense of respect for the Church and for its hierarchy, as each side freely resorts to verbal abuse and physical violence against priests, bishops and cardinals.
Mathew’s Gospel gives us a single-line description of the situation on ground. Addressing the Pharisees and teachers of the Law as “blind guides” Jesus says, “ You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” The unholy battle regarding the liturgical code has had far-reaching repercussions. The dissension, division and disrespect generated from this has veered completely out of control.
A dispassionate assessment of the merits of adopting a uniform liturgical code, as well as the arguments put forward against the motion, are legitimate and deserve attention. Then what is the actual problem? Why is this continuing to infect the entire community like a festering wound that refuses to heal? The truth of the matter is that this issue was only a trigger that set the entire Syro-Malabar community ablaze. Somewhere along the way, both sides threw away the road map that guides us in the Lord’s Way. Both factions chose to run the show by their own rules. It has reached us this far, and now we are lost in a desert of our own creation. The time has come to lay down our man-made weapons before the Lord.
St Mary’s Basilica no longer serves as the temple of the Lord. The physical structure remains, but it has been spiritually stripped beyond recognition. Its altars have been desecrated, and the Holy Eucharist has been subject to insult and abuse. Within and outside its walls, hatred and evil have reigned supreme. Every teaching of Christ has been smashed to pieces in the name of a liturgical practice. Unfortunately, all of this was blessed, directed and executed by God’s chosen disciples, who are presently members of opposing factions. The story of Jonah in Nineveh should inspire us to understand our position before it is too late. The Church needs to be cleansed through deep prayer and penance by every member of the Syro-Malabar community who have to take collective responsibility for the insult and injury against Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In His infinite mercy, He may restore His church and refrain from punishing an unfaithful people, just as He did in Nineveh.
I appeal to my brothers in Christ who have taken on the responsibility of shepherding the Lord’s flock. Jesus uses leadership and service as synonyms , and He explains this in detail to His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mathew 20:25-28. Here lies the solution to the leaders on both sides of the Syro-Malabar divide.
Close on the heels of service comes obedience. The Passion and Death of Christ was an outcome of obedience to the Will of God. No true Christian can ever forget that last request of the Son to the Father at Gethsemane. The Will of God took precedence over the request. St Paul’s letter to the Philippians describes His ultimate sacrifice as the ultimate act of obedience
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Nothing short of this is acceptable from God’s chosen people—the leaders of His flock. They are role models who have pledged to offer service and obedience under the banner of Christ’s leadership.. They must realize that the battle is the Lord’s. It cannot be won by violence and brute force. May we be able to offer these decisions to the Lord and accept His Will even as we try to understand and carry out His true purpose for us in this world.