Montag, 17. August 2015

Dhruwadeepti // Religion / Church in India Today : Houses of God without God / Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt

Dhruwadeepti // Religion / 

Church in India Today : 
Houses of God without God / 

Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt

Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt

Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt
In the recent past a colossal church was blessed and opened for worship in Edappally in the archdiocese of Ernakulam by the Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alenchery. Many a criticism has been raised in India about the propriety of investing 50 crores of rupees on a building that is meant for Christians to experience God in community. The extravagance and profligacy of those responsible for the construction of it did not escape the notice of the Cardinal and he did give vent to it during the valedictory function. In doing so he certainly was absolving his own personal share in maintaining silence while the church was in the planning stage and under construction over the years that it took to complete.  Anyone who is familiar with the gospel and the value system of Christ should sense the utter contradiction to the spirit of the gospel that the church at Edappally projects in loud and clear terms. The tragic fact is that the Church in Kerala is on a war path erecting multi-crore churches in every nook and corner to replace existing ones with the lame pretext of lack of space or aging of church buildings. We are forgetting the words of the Lord, “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for that is the kind of worship the Father wants” (Jn.4:23)

St. George Forane Church, Edappally- Ernakulam.
Who is responsible for this turn of affairs in the Church in India today? It would be unjust to point a finger at Bishops and priests only because they would not be able to carry through a campaign of this magnitude if the laity did not co-operate and provide the financial backing. Well, the truth we cannot be blind to is the evident superficiality in the knowledge of Christ and his teachings among the Christians at large. As the Jews of old believed, many seem to think that financial prosperity is a sure sign of the blessing of God and that one must return thanks to Him by erecting churches that reflect the wealth of the community that worships there. This position is nothing but a convenient ignoring of the real meaning of the incarnation in Christ. “Although he was rich, he made himself poor to make you rich through his poverty.” (2 Cor.8:9). He was born among the poor, lived among the poor and preached the presence of the Kingdom of God in those who were poor in spirit. And he declared in unmistakable terms: “It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mt.19:23). In the face of all this we have our rich Christian brethren who scheme to raise a tower of Babel to honour God when the average man struggles to meet the demands of modern living. In fact the family-size has been radically reduced because they are incapable of living up to the expectations of modern living with more members in the family. 

On the other hand, many do not hesitate in parting with their wealth to put up opulent churches because it bears testimony before the world that the community has wealth. But the same members of the community have no thought for the masses that go without sufficient food and nourishment in the country, who struggle to meet their hospital expenditure and children’s education. 60 per cent of rural India households remain deprived of several requirements in life. According to the socio-economic and caste census conducted in 2011, 75 per cent of rural households do not have a family member making more than Rs.5000 a month. It may be curious to know that with less than half the amount spent on Edappally church, Prime Minister Modi intends to build 30 million houses for the poor. Whether it will be materialized or not is to be seen. However, isn’t there something that negates the gospel of Christ on the part of everyone who is responsible for multi-crore churches in a developing country like India?

The newly constructing St.Antony's Church, Chengalam
What is it that may be driving people to give lavish donations to build extravagant churches? One possible reason may be the fallacy existing among many Christians that they honor God by erecting the most beautiful church for his worship. But we know Jesus never spoke of building any structures to worship God. He spoke of shutting the door and praying to the Father in secret and of gathering in two or three in his name to pray. He never envisaged mighty crowds at prayer conventions and retreat centers making a sensation in his name. He was certainly very emphatic in stating that if a person were to give so much as a cup of cold water to one of the least of his brethren, he would not lose his reward. But as for having a place to worship God together as a community, does it not suffice to have a spacious hall that can contain the community? It requires no gold embellishing and expensive furniture. 

Are we trying to emulate followers of other religions in this? We are oblivious to the truth that God is far more pleased when someone shares his possessions with the less privileged than when lavish gifts are offered to the church purely for displaying the wealth of the individuals that constitute that community. God is much more honored and glorified in our caring for others than in the donations we make to church constructions. The Church is made up of real living persons and when there is true and loving relationship among members of a community it represents the Body of Christ. It is this Body that has to be fed with loving attention and care and not the walls or the façade of the building that require the costliest ornamentation. But do our worshippers in churches care about those sitting right or left of them when they are in dead hurry to leave the church and head for their car? Perhaps we are unaware that the God we worship is already within ourselves and the community. But our worship may hardly go beyond participating in a ceremony or ritual instead of being the celebration of God in our midst.

The Constantine era continues to dominate the thinking of many in the Church despite the re-evaluation by the Second Vatican Council. It is still wealth, power and pomp which seem to many as the indicator of God’s presence and blessing. Bethlehem and Calvary seem to make no impact when it comes down to the practice of Christianity. Opposed to that, Pope Francis has been crying himself hoarse emphasizing the urgency to come forward to lift up the poor and marginalized section of society. He himself adopted simplicity as the characteristic of his papacy and has endeared himself for this to the masses all over the world. He insists through his encyclicals and talks that it is incumbent on everyone in society, regardless of caste or creed, to ensure that there is no waste of human consumer goods, particularly food, so that that the less privileged may have sufficient to live in dignity. 

Altar in St.George Forane Chuch, Edappally- Ernakulam.
By no means is it justifiable, then, to dole out huge amounts of money on places of worship when the living temple which is the human person lies in danger of being wrecked through callousness, neglect and indifference of those who possess resources. It is high time to place a ceiling on expenses that can be incurred on construction of churches, regardless of means available to the community. Strict vigilance should be held by those who have charge of parishes and dioceses that the law of Christ to love one another be not infringed for the sake of a pretentious love of God that is over eager to raise up gigantic churches with cupolas, domes or steeples that stand out against the skyline and proclaim the glory of the builders rather than the glory of God.  In some cases it is the clerical class whose ambitions collude with the laity in their craze to find favor with the priests and bishops. It is most unwise of us, then, to sacrifice the teachings of Christ to give expression to our unbridled ambition, pride and selfishness. Whom do we fool but ourselves when we betray our shallow knowledge of God in the priorities we set in our life style as Christians?
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ധൃവദീപ്തി  ഓണ്‍ലൈൻ

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