Sonntag, 8. Oktober 2017

ധ്രുവദീപ്തി : Christianity // The Centrality of Christ in Christian life-// Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt

ധ്രുവദീപ്തി : Christianity // 

The Centrality of Christ in Christian life-

 Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt
There is a question that keeps popping up in my mind often as I continue to witness year after year the flow of Western men and women by hundreds to Tiruvannamalai, a small town in Tamil Nadu where I live. I begin to wonder why all these people from a Christian background come here so regularly year after year. The obvious answer seems to be the life and message of the Hindu Sage Sri. Ramana Maharshi who lived here during the first half of the 20th century. He had urged people from all walks of life who flocked to him to find divinity within them by self-enquiry. But does not Christianity contain such a teaching or is it because there is no one who can point that out to them in their Churches? The million dollar question that can rightly be asked is whether the mainline Churches have lost Christ in the midst of showcasing their Christianity.

Christianity crossed the second millennial mark 17 years ago and is marching ahead in the 21st century claiming it to be a world religion with more than one billion followers spread over almost every country in the world. But what is the state of Christianity today in terms of what was in the mind of Jesus Christ who founded the Church on Peter and the apostles? Can it today identify itself as something different from other religions in its teachings or in its way of life? In what does the uniqueness of Christianity lie? The truth lies in the centrality of Christ which should be in the life of its followers. But reality shows that Christianity succumbed to the plight of every other religion that conforms to a code of conduct, a system of rites, rituals and practices that come to be associated with its followers? No sooner a religion has its framework of laws and rituals and a class of people to oversee and implement them, it easily tends to confine itself within a paradigm limited by these. Sadly, Christianity down the centuries has been no exception to this.

Jesus was born into a Jewish family.
 The Boy Jesus Visits Jarusalem

Jesus was born into a Jewish family and his family background was entirely Jewish. In religion and culture he was very much like any other follower of Judaism. He followed the tenets of his religion right from his childhood years as we read in the gospels. He attended the synagogue at Nazareth at every Sabbath with his parents (Lk.4:16). When he assumed the role of a Rabbi and chose disciples, the specific demand that he made of them was to follow him. From the very outset of his public ministry he preached the coming of the kingdom of God. He did not introduce any new law into the existing moral code but invited everyone to be mindful of the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it. This is where he differed radically from the Scribes and Pharisees who insisted on observance of the law to the letter. Jesus wanted his followers to keep all laws prompted by the all-important motivation of love of God and neighbor. By this he was asserting the utter futility of being faithful to the laws only for their own sake. Any law has value in as far as it goes to enhance the glory of God or that of human beings in accordance with their dignity.

Christianity goes beyond being faithful to laws.

Christianity goes beyond being faithful to laws and prescriptions to living a life animated by love. This is said to take place only when one is in an intimate relationship with God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke his mind very clearly when he said: “If anyone would be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt.16:24). Christ did not come to establish a religion with its specific beliefs, laws and practices but rather he came to show a way of life which consists in following him strictly. It consisted in being conformed to Christ from within. Whilst the laws of God as enunciated in the commandments continue to remain the basis of Christian life, it is love that should motivate every action and reaction of a Christian.

As history of the Church unfolded, from the time Christianity began to enjoy the favor of the Roman emperor, the tone of Christianity changed radically from a Christ-centered religion to a moralistic, hierarchical, ritualistic and achievement–oriented religion. Christ came to be seen as an outside God and no longer recognized in his immanent presence within every human being. The clergy monopolized that presence by over-emphasizing the place of the church building for the Christian community. Christian life centered on it all over the world because it was taught universally that the Eucharistic presence is the only real presence of Christ. It took the emergence of a Saint Francis of Assisi to make people turn their attention to the wonders of God’s presence in nature. But this did not percolate into the masses, inviting them to discover God in all things. Christian life continued to be focused on churches where the clerical class played the dominating roll in directing the worship and prayer life of the community. That has continued up to our day as witnessed to in every country in the world. Vatican II was a revolutionary event that sought to re-invent the Church as more akin to the one desired by Christ but it suffered drastically in its understanding of it and in its implementation.

The life of the ordinary Christian today

 The life of the ordinary Christian today
in Kerala
The life of the ordinary Christian today hinges around attending church on Sundays, participating in novenas and other devotional exercises and having prayers recited on various occasions. In certain parts of the world where Christianity is relatively new, devotion to saints takes on additional importance. Even in ancient and traditional Churches such as those in Kerala in India, the saints occupy a prominent position in the religious life of the faithful. In fact much solemnity is observed on their feasts especially that of the patron of the parish but proportionately little attention is shown in celebrating the feasts of Christ such as Christmas, Easter and other mysteries. 

The laity are hardly made aware of them by the priests who control and direct the life of worship of the Christian community. Religion turns into a quid pro quo exercise for favors expected. But that was not what was intended by Christ the Lord when he founded the Church as his body and wanted it to be a means of inner transformation. It was this that was expected of a person on encountering Christ but unfortunately many are Christians because they are born into a Christian family. Few truly make the personal encounter with Christ in the course of their life. The sad outcome is being content with a moral life that satisfies the eyes of society and proceeding no further towards the Kingdom of God.

There are numerous sayings in the gospel especially in that of St. John alluding to the intimacy of relationship that should exist between Christ and his disciples. The metaphor of the wine and the branches portrays it best. “I am the vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in me and I in you,   you bear much fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn.15: 5). These words of Jesus obviously point to the utter powerlessness of the disciple apart from him. In other words the power that resides in anyone is basically that of Christ who abides in him or her. There is no distance between the human person and Christ. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you” (Jn.14:20). But when one is not aware of it, one imagines whatever power one has to be in oneself apart from Christ. In such a life, Christ is an outside figure who is looked up to in times of need, when life situations seem beyond one’s capacity to control them. Such an attitude results in ego-centered actions predominating in a person’s life. Every action is planned and executed from the standpoint of the ego calculating the advantages accruing to it from them. God’s plan and will are hardly taken note of except when something mind-boggling happens. On the other hand, a person who is united with Christ in his ordinary life and lives from that consciousness makes his/her plans and carries them out in total freedom, knowing that it is Christ who lives and acts in him/ her. There is nothing spared for the ego because it has been surrendered to God whose presence is experienced in one’s life.

A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master.”

The above form of life does not mean that a person’s actions will necessarily end in success or will be devoid of any pain. The life of Jesus Christ is an open book in this respect and as he himself foretold, “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master.” (Math.10:24) If anyone was an apparent failure in life, it was none other than Christ. Well, the way of life open to us as Christians, therefore, is traced out for us in the beatitudes which are obviously paradoxical in nature. It is an open invitation to become rich by being poor; to begin to dance for joy when we are called upon to suffer injustice and persecution for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. It is the constant awareness of Christ’s presence in one’s life that enables the Christian to follow this path in life and pursue it perseveringly, cost what it may. Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, in his meditations quotes Alan Watts (1915-1973), a British philosopher, who in his book, ‘A study in the necessity of mystical religion’ says: “From the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way. . . as Jesus himself.” One must be grounded in the mystical side of the life and teachings of Christ to possess this mindset. As St. Paul said: “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal.2:20)

The demand that Christ makes of every Christian is to lose oneself and let him live in them. This is what he meant when he said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mat. 10:39). And again, “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn.12:24). All of our spiritual life consists in losing our ego-self so that we may gain our true self which is Christ Himself. It is a lifelong process and a painful one too because everyone tends to cling to ones’ ego for fear that losing it is the loss of everything. Therefore, one abhors humiliations, defeats, failures, poverty and anything that speaks of having less or being less. Everyone looks forward to achievements and bigger feats to add to one’s kitty of records. Thomas Merton in his book, “Conjectures of a guilty bystander” speaks of the true self in splendid terms: “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

Pope Francis exhorts Christians to be engaged in constant touch with Christ in their daily lives:

“Speak to Jesus … Tell him what’s happening to you. What happened today. Tell him the things you saw and you disliked, or in the school or out in the streets, or in your family … Jesus is waiting for you, and he is looking for you, and you don’t realize … Look for him, and that’s how you will find each other. Dare to do it.” 

An intimacy of relationship with Christ-

An intimacy of relationship with Christ is one that seeks to hold his presence almost uninterruptedly before our eyes. It enables us to be engaged in dialogue with him as between friends. It may seem dualistic in nature but in actual fact there is only one person in it. It is God seeking God as the mystics say. But in human terms it is a human being seeking God who is present within. Only when this becomes our ordinary state, can we be said to be in union with God in continuous prayer. In fact prayer from being a verb must turn into a noun as our action becomes our very nature. This in fact is true Christian life. Every human person is called upon to live this in his or her life situation; to be in close touch with the divine reality within the range of one’s life both within and without. Mahatma Gandhi said: “We have one thousand names to denote God and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.” It is the contemplative approach to Christian life as traced out in the gospels that enables us to live a meaningful life. Devoid of it, we are virtually ignoring the Incarnation and taking the substance out of it to satisfy our puny little self. Will we allow ourselves to be challenged about our mode of Christian living or prefer to stay in our comfort zones, holding tightly to our old belief system babbling out prayers and performing rituals?//-

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