Monday, September 4, 2017

Cafeteria Christianity

 The world witnessed a worse protest in Charlottesville when neo-Nazis marched in the streets with Nazi flags and torches. This not only stunned the world but also made everyone aware that the tendency to do is rampant in our society. A specific photograph of the protest that went viral intrigued me, the photo of a police officer, who seems, protecting the neo-Nazis. I was dazed when I blow the picture to read a few Biblical references in a placard hoisted by a protester. One of the references is from the Gospel of John 8:31-47. This protester obviously seems to have looked up on Google for an apt Biblical reference to match his ideology of anti-Semitism. He has not done an in-depth study of the scripture to deduct as to what Jesus is speaking.
In the above-mentioned Scripture, Jesus and Jews are having a heated discussion about Abraham and his descendants. Jews were aggravated to hear from Jesus that if they make Jesus’ word their home, they will be His disciples who will then learn the truth and the truth will make them free. Then the matter of freedom annoys the Jews even more because they were never slaves as the descendants of Abraham. What Jesus tries to explain is, if anyone commits sin is the slave of sin. Sin will bind us but Son will free us from sin.    
Let me now come to the real topic of my discussion. “Cafeteria Catholicism” is the term used by Michael Jone’s, Fidelity Magazine in 1986. Richard Holloway did another use in an interview in Third Way in 2001, “You get cafeteria Christianity, a kind of shopping for ideas you approve of. They turned out to be right for the wrong reasons, because I think that once you admit that there are in Scripture large sections that by our standards are not just inappropriate but scarcely moral – such as the justification of slavery.” 
The term, “Cafeteria Christianity” has taken root in the society today. I had written an article a while ago, in which, I had mentioned about Convenient Christianity or another term that I think of is, Bookshelf Christianity. In Cafeteria Christianity, one picks and chooses as if sliding our food tray along a cafeteria’s counter, referring to some Christians’ making a personal selection of Christian teaching. One picks and chooses the stuff that one wants and rest he discards it. The term implies that an individual’s professed religious belief is actually a proxy for their personal opinions rather than an acceptance of Christian doctrine. This is what happened when Charlottesville protester chose that the Scripture to match his ideology to distance the Jewish community. In his case, he chose to reject whole scripture and embrace only the parts that he liked. In this way, he would have left out the full Christian precept and tried to validate his advocacy of a different precept entirely.
In our post-modern times, the texts that we read have put ample emphasis on so called ‘cherry-picking theology’ where one chooses to propose an argument to sensationalize without adequate analysis although not all. Generally, cafeteria Catholicism is applied to Catholics who dissent from Roman Catholics moral teaching on issues such as abortion, birth control, premarital sex, masturbation or homosexuality. The term has been in use since the issuance of Humanae Vitae.
Cafeteria Christianity can also be applied to the people who choose religious duties as and when it pleases them, in other words, follow religious duties whenever it is convenient. Hence, making God and His teachings negotiable according to our whims and fancies. This way one limit God to only mere human faculties and do away with God’s incomprehensive power over humanity. It is significant to be aware of ourselves and our relationship with God, so that we may not be “Cafeteria Christians”, rather, we might truly be Christians make Christ as the focus of our lives both in times of challenges and joys.  

Being Priest: Who is he?

Last week, I had written about why do we need priests in the Church? This week, I would like to focus on who is a priest? It made me reflect, when an Anglican priest told me that he is doing a job; he has to apply seeing the classified on the newspaper for a vacancy in a parish. He is paid for his service in the parish by the diocese. This is not to compare Anglican and Catholic priesthood but just to reflect with you, what it means to be a priest? Most often, we come across priests as lecturers, professors, canons, doctors, singers, musicians, artists and so on. Is it important to have a profession or be man of God or may be both?
Not every professional can be a priest but every priest can be a professional. For instance, a physician cannot be a priest but a priest can be both priest and physician. That is called “being priest.” In other words, a priest is priest for every moment of his life. He is called to be priest every second of his life whereas a professional is not required to be in his profession whilst not on duty.
One of the persons told me that he does not want to see a priest who is less qualified than him to preach to him from the altar. The questions about qualification are an issue for some modern priests. It is significant to have qualified priests in our society today, in order to bring about the kingdom of God in an effective and a creative way. Our society needs priest of quality and all-rounders to an equitable dialogue with the most advanced world.
Pope Francis addressing the Catechists told that “catechist” is not a work but “be a catechist.” I think this suits my line of argument too, priesthood is not a job or a profession rather it is “being a priest.” Being a priest involves a deeper understanding of oneself and God. An inner depth of one’s knowledge about God and a deep experience of God through prayer and way of life will suffice my argument for pro priests. As St. Ignatius said, give me only your love and grace that is enough for me; true we have to grow in love and in grace of God and the rest will be given unto us.
Sometimes priest might have a temptation to think about their predecessors, that they have become popular, so I also must be popular. Thus follows every craze to be one. Why do I want to be popular? Pope Francis says, not to hail Pope’s name rather hail and recite Jesus’ name. This is the greatness of a person. One, who is last, will be first in the kingdom of God and one who is first, will be last. There will be a remote temptation and craving for titles, thus going to any extreme to get them. Priest’s life must not revolve around these worldly attraction and momentary greatness. Rather is in doing simple things like St. John Mary Vienne and St. Therese of Lisieux, we can glorify our God.
You are a priest forever, it is in ‘becoming priest’ we are accepted by the people of God. It requires a certain amount of dedication to prayer and a constant rapport with the people. A priest draws his inspiration from the Eucharist he celebrates and the church prayer that he recites every day. If this is true rest will fall in line; rest being a teacher, a professor, a physician, an artist and so on. A mediocre priest will find it hard in the long run to be able to work for the kingdom of God. A priest craving for attention and prestige sooner or later will drift along the current; however, there is always a temptation to be in the limelight. Soon people forget the sacraments and adore the priest because of his constant popularity and his work. This is exactly working against the will of God, where one seeks to be in the limelight whilst the centre-focus, Jesus and his church are side lined. This is just alarming and scandalous to the people of God.

Priests somehow have to watch and guard against this temptation of being workaholic to such an extent that one forgets he is priest forever. Craving for power, prestige and popularity can be an obstacle for the greater glory of God. Being a priest means, being a man of prayer and a man in constant touch with the people of God. 

Do you need Catholic Priests?

The one prayer that everyone can pray in this diocese is ‘Prayer for Vocations.’ This prayer has become very routine way of ending the Prayers of the Faithful. Has this prayer borne its fruits? Let us try to understand as to why we need priests in the Church? Can we manage without the priests? Why does the Church have priests?

Holy Orders is the Sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: Episcopate, Presbyterate, and Deaconate in other words, Bishop, Priest and Deacon.

Priest is a man of the Eucharist: The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and the celebration of the Eucharist is central for the Church. Priest celebrates the Eucharist in persona Christi. There is an unbreakable bond between the Eucharist and the priest. Priesthood becomes fulfilled when he celebrates the Eucharist.

Priest is a man of prayer: ‘I nourish you with what I myself live on,’ St. Anselm said. The proclaimed truths must be discovered and adopted in the intimacy of prayer and meditation. Our ministry of the word consists in expressing what was first prepared in prayer. Priest is the mediator between God and men; many turn to him asking for prayers. Thus prayer, in a certain sense, ‘creates’ the priest, especially as Pastor.

Identity as priest: Many priests wondered whether priest is necessary in the face of secularisation and the abandonment of religious practices. Therefore, priest wondered about the identity. From the start, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, the priest was ‘taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.’ This is the best definition of the priest’s identity. Every priest, according to the gifts bestowed upon him by the Creator, can serve God in various ways and with his priestly ministry, can reach various sectors of human life, and bring them closer to God.

Fidelity to Christ and the people of God: Priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Priests fulfil their vocation by trusting in God’s support and constantly striving for holiness. Through the deep friendship with Christ, a priest becomes a bridge between God and His people. Therefore, a priest seeks the flock of God with love and mercy by cultivating the tranquil conviction that the One who began the work will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

The priest has a specific role in the parish community as pastor and leader. His primary role would be to pastor the people of God through the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments. Thence, the priest pastors the community on behalf of the Local Bishop, who appoints him as the parish priest. The Second Vatican Council recommends, "Parish priests ensure that the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center and culmination of the entire life of the Christian community" (Decr. Christus Dominus, n. 30). Without Eucharistic worship as its beating heart, the parish dries up.

In conclusion, I would like to urge every Christian to offer up to the Lord our priests in this diocese, both local and foreign. It is a crucial moment for the Church as the world is gliding towards secularism, pluralism and non-religionism. The human society has reached a state of freedom, which is a good virtue but use of freedom to meet one’s venal motives can be detrimental to the entire human family. The religious sentiments have become weaker and Gospel values have become archaic and persons tend to depend on their own ability and reason. The honest priests and genuine religious-oriented persons must be able to guide our human family to God through one principle, love of God and love of neighbor. This would not be easy task since our world values collide with the values of the Gospel.  If we say, we don’t need priests or we can manage without them, then you can ignore my article because this article has come straight from my heart, because I do value the significance of honest and committed priests. 

Solar Eclipse, motivation to reflect and learn

Now that the Solar Eclipse has occurred on the face of the universe, I would like to make some observations even though I am not an astronomer and have not seen the eclipse either. My observations might have a touch of rational and religious facet, because, there is a thin line between reason and religion or science and spiritual. I would like to add a little flavour to the natural phenomena with super-natural phenomena without undermining the natural element.

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a planetary scientist and the director of the Vatican Observatory, and also an expert in asteroids and meteorites, made an interesting mention in the Time Magazine on Thursday, August 17. He says, “this phenomenon of the solar eclipse must remind us of the immense beauty of the universe, which occurs outside our small world of our occupations. It takes us away from our own world to remind us that we are part of a great, glorious and beautiful universe. The meaning of any phenomenon comes with enquiries and we can approach this phenomenon spiritually to bring meaning to our lives irrespective of our traditions. Ask yourself, what are the questions that rise in me? and answer these in your own heart first.”

Brother Guy reminds that Mother Mary pondered everything in her heart and she did not take on to write theology about what she pondered in her heart. She simply took time to reflect and meditate on realities of life and this way she understood the plan of God for her. We too need to spend time to reflect and mediate in our hearts and ponder and savour them in our hearts first before we make a public extravaganza.

Brother Guy remarked that the solar eclipse is not something to be worshipped or fear but it is something to enjoy and be able to ponder to wonder. I was pondering, how would it feel to be under the shadow of the moon but unfortunately I was not lucky as people in Kentucky to be under the shadow of the moon. I guess, it would not be extraordinary in the sense of the being under a shadow, but very fact that you are under the shadow of the moon, is something super extraordinary. I would have pondered and cherished those moments of shadow on me. My expression would have been more poetic if that happened to me or “to God be the Glory.”

My way of looking at this experience will be different than others, because I believe that God has a way to show his grandeur more concretely through the natural occurrence. God chose to make this rational universe so that we can predict this natural occurrence with great precision, although not every natural phenomenon can be predicted with precision. We, as humans grasp the natural phenomenon through our senses as much as we could but beyond our senses, the universe remains speculative reality. In other words, we see the universe and its contents differently, such as, poet might not look at the universe as a cosmologist would look at it. Therefore, it is important for us to reflect on natural phenomenon keeping supernatural reality on the hindsight. If we try to separate these two realities, we will ignore what is beyond our comprehension. We are fortunate to gaze the solar eclipse through our senses. This eclipse has to help to live in peace and harmony because we live under the same sun and its shadow. This also must motivate us to learn more through scientific and spiritual mind.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage us to be meditative and simply ponder the events that occur in the universe. Some events would be once-in-a-life time experience so savour those moments that nature show us. Nature is the best teacher and nature can teach us that God is ever present in us. Nature has its own rhythm, which must help us to respect nature and its ways of functioning. As Christians, we are privileged to have known and experienced God in our day-today lives, and more specifically in the day-today functioning of the universe.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jail Fail

The past week has been a week of scare and care for the people of Guyana. It was scare, when the horrendous fire at the Camp Street Prison that engulfed both the physical vicinity of the prison and its psychological effects on people. It was care, because everyone cared for each other’s safety inclusive of the safety of the prisoners. In all this, I was specifically moved by two nerve-wrenching testimonies of cry of the mother of the slain prison warden, and testimony of the abducted taxi driver. In the former, a mother lost her promising and dedicated child and in the later, the taxi driver who was abducted by the fugitive prisoners would come home safe for the sake of the little child. According to the taxi driver, the fugitive prisoners let him go for he begged for the sake of his child. This suggests that the fugitive prisoners do have some humanity left in them but as we know, it is not properly harnessed hence; they have taken a path of gloom and doom.

Why does someone chooses a path of violence that eventually leads them to prison where there will be grinding of teeth and wailing within the walls? No one has clear answers, but we have theories such as, parents needs to nip in the bud, teachers need to ‘don’t spare the rod’, religious leaders need to talk about morality and government need to be responsible for the bad behaviour of the its citizens. Fyodor Dostoevsky expressed, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” We live in a complicated society, which has myriad problems and mysteries, and those problems remain long to explode into something worse as it happened in the Camp Street Prison fire. “Keep in mind those who are in prion, as though you were in prions with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in the one body” Hebrews 13:3. Every one of us must take responsibility for the failure of the society and not begin blame game, which are naturally the first and the foremost disposition. In other words, we tend to judge someone else for the failure. For instance, if a light has to be fixed in my house, do I blame my neighbour, someone right at my house, GPL or just get the light fixed? How do take responsibility for someone who has taken a wrong path? In order to answer that question, we need to delve deep into our own families, education system, job opportunities, church as a moral watchdog, and so on. Among all the above, family is crucial because what you sow, you reap. Most families work hard for an integrated growth of a person and most families succeed and many families also fail. In either case, families will have the satisfaction of doing their duty well.

Let me inscribe the poem written from the cell in Germany by pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
 Stretched out on my cot,
I stare at the grey wall,
Outside, a summer evening 
That does not know me
Goes singing into the countryside.
Slowly and softly 
The tides of the day ebb
On the eternal shore...

We the poor, the rich,
Alike in misfortune,
The good, the bad,
Whatever we have been 
We men of many scars,
We the witnesses of those who died,
We the defiant, we the despondent,
The innocent, and the much accused,
Deeply tormented by long isolation,
Brother, we are searching, we are calling you!
Brother, do you hear me? 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A mothers bond of fond

Mother, an inexhaustible word
Ourselves and across the board
Eyes sparkling with love
Everyone in adoration bow

Naked was I formed in thy womb
A form of my being until the tomb
Myself emanate thy noble fragrance
Every fibre of my being show radiance

Thou strengthened my feet
Then I walked my way to greet
My eyes sparkled with courage
This could be a arrearage

You whispered into God’s ears
That help myself bears
Taught how to talk to God
Thence, my being a laud

Sweetest lady of my first love
I shall abide in you like a dove
My heart gushes to ponder
Despite with it yonder

You are the morning dew
I have none gifts but few
Thou art a jewel precious
I will cherish thou gracious

My being propels a mighty kiss
For thou art today I miss
An intertwined noble bond

I greet thou my dear mother with fond

I have waited too long

Lord, how lovely to dwell in you
You’re the Lord of the living
Thou liveth in every being  
Stay with us Lord
Thou art close to the broken
Meet your weakest
Don’t abandon the righteous
Shine your merciful eyes
Your presence is better than life
I am broken and bruised
Loneliness killing me.

Where can go for your love
If I look for you in my home
I find only evil
If I look for you among leaders
I find only Pharisees
If I look for you in the temple
I find only curious eyes
Where do I find you?
Lord, you gave your body
You shed your precious blood
Am I worthy of your Being?
Drink from the same cup
A feeling ‘do this in memory of me’
My whole self pines for your clutch
A tender touch of your presence
Ever cooling breath of spirit
Many push me to the fringe
Lord, am I not worthy of YOU

Lord, you’re the master of me
A companion for broken journey
I am walking towards You
When will I reach You?
Many obstruct my way
Told, you’re not worthy of God
You want to abandon me
Do you hear my cry for your help
Wash me with thy Body and Blood
Come into me Sacred Species

I have waited too long!