Of bishops, priests and show-offs

The laity must wake up. They have for too long allowed themselves to be misled by this hypocritical show of comic power.

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By Valson Thampu

A major problem I have encountered in my tryst with my community – as well the wider society, to which I cannot be indifferent – is that people do not understand underlying patterns and reasons. So, they are not able to judge for themselves. This makes them too impressed with show and ostentation. Which also means that they become blind to the truth hidden just beneath the surface.

Remember, Jesus came to open our eyes? (St. Luke 4:18). Most of us don’t realize that this needs to happen to all of us. I became aware of this in respect of myself some three decades ago and have been particularly bothered about it. Of course, I have done what I could have, to get out of this pathetic situation of spiritual blindness. I continue to struggle in this respect. I must admit I have a long way to go to see the Light of Life as I ought to in all His glory.

Since I know this is basic to the discipline of Biblical spirituality, I am happy to soldier on.

So, let’s ask ourselves: Why do these holy men, ostensibly followers of Jesus, who said He did not a spot to lay His head (Lk.5:58), show off in utter insensitivity to the boorishness they practise? [Just an aside. When Narendra Modi wore a gaudy expensive three-piece suit early on in his tenure, there was universal embarrassment about it. It invited a lot of sarcasm. The vain sartorial elegance that our bishops and Moderators – Right Reverends and Most Reverends (as if others are wrong reverends and unholy ones) flaunt is far worse. Modi did it only once. They do it every day and make a virtue of it. We don’t have the common sense the rest of the world has. We don’t laugh at this vanity!]

Let’s ask, first: Why didn’t Jesus need all this expensive comic paraphernalia? That is exactly what it is: truly comic. Think of a bishop insisting that only he, and not his priests, have the right to sport a cross outside the cassock. What is his idea of the cross? Some super-fancy ornament or what? [Priests are allowed to wear cross only inside their cassocks or shirts]
– that he alone is entitled to some designated colour for his cassock. If you, as a priest, wear anything other than white cassocks, you will be chastised! Why do the bishops need colour codes – like some specimens – to distinguish them? Why can’t they be distinguished otherwise? How come change in colour (like in the case of the chameleon) has such astronomical spiritual worth? Funny!

  • Why does a bishop, who does not obey Jesus Christ, assume that he is entitled to slavish obedience from all priests UNDER him?
  • Isn’t it funny that a bishop imagines others to be under him? There was none UNDER Jesus of Nazareth. He washed the feet of His disciples. When I heard a Moderator say some time ago, “I have four million people under me,” my skin began to creep. What is this fellow’s mindset? Where does he stand in relation to Jesus Christ? In which ancient kingdom is he living?
  • Isn’t it funny that a bishop needs luxury vehicles – given he is sworn to poverty – to prove his spiritual superiority and his proximity to God? My bishop in Delhi had a fleet of expensive cars.
  • How come a bishop has all the time in the world for the rich and the mighty, and how come we are blind to the ungodliness of his treating poor people like dirt? I am an eye-witness to this insult to Jesus from one end of the country to the other.

-And think of the cope and mitre of a bishop! From where has the poor fellow invented this fancy dress? What does it signify in terms of who he really is? What value does it have? Why does he need it? More importantly, why do we need to see this grotesquerie?

  • Isn’t it the case that the corruption in the church, which is becoming an integral part of a bishop’s identity, is organically linked to is expensive vanity?

But there is irony here; and that makes me feel sorry also for bishops.

The irony is this: these poor fellows are, they believe, under compulsion to IMPRESS the laity. They believe that impressing them is the very oxygen of their authority over their ‘flock’. (I am really surprised you don’t get offended by being called and treated like a fold of sheep!) They also believe that, but for their authority, the diocese will go to the dogs; or dogs will come to the diocese. They believe – for good reasons – that the laity have no spiritual eye to look through these deceptive appearances. They – the laity – allow themselves to be impressed and overwhelmed by this show of pomp and splendor.

The laity must wake up. They have for too long allowed themselves to be misled by this hypocritical show of comic power. If you and I have Jesus Christ as the norm for judging spiritual things, how can we be so gullible and undiscerning? The farther we are from the Spirit of our Lord, the more vulnerable we are to these costumed deceivers who are not what they seem.

So, now let’s ask – WHY DO THESE HOLY MEN need to SHOW OFF IN THIS FASHION?

The answer is simple and obvious; still let me make a small statement of it.

Life is a matter of balance – especially balance between what is inside of us and what is visible outside. External things are meaningful, but only so, to the extent that they reflect the inner truth.

Now comes the most important truth that we need to keep in mind always. When the two are in balance, we become unconscious of the external. Any preoccupation with, or excessive reliance of external appearance means only one thing – the inside of this fellow is either hollow or rotten.

If you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t need to show off. You see, discipleship is so affordable, which protects you from the need to be corrupt!

That is what I learned from Jesus Christ’s condemnation of the priests of his time – whited sepulchers! The appearance is impressive, but the inside is rotting. It is a sphere of death.
The more the inside rots, the greater is the need to paint and gild the external. You remember how Jesus disapproved of publicity in religious matters? Read the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to Apostle Matthew. Jesus insists that nothing should be done to be ‘seen by men’. Our holy men want only to be seen by men. If ever they become aware that God is seeing them, they would faint. Their good fortune is that they are completely free from the pang of conscience and consciousness of God. They are aware of you; and the need to impress you. So, there they go!

You can’t be aware of God’s authority over you and, at the same time, go on cheating the people whom you are required to serve in humility and accountability to God. It is simply not possible. So, when our church gets filled to suffocation with corruption and worldliness, what it points to is simple -we have nothing to do with God.

NOW PLEASE REMEMBER THIS….

I seek to alert you to clerical and episcopal hypocrisy for a reason. That reason has nothing to do with any personal displeasure. It is important that all my friends, and their friends, know this for sure.

My conviction is this. So long as the laity continue to venerate these hypocrites – who care too hoots for Jesus – they shall remain alienated from our Lord.

The choice is clear. Either we adore these hypocrites and demi-gods of corruption; or we worship God in spirit and in truth through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We cannot do both!

Over years and decades, churches conditioned us to venerate bishops, thirumenis and Moderators. We got so used to it that the practical atheism hidden in it was overlooked. All of our present woes issue from this aberration.

The remedy for the present malady from which our churches – all denominations – are suffering today, I believe, rests with the laity. If their eyes would open and they judge aright these religious quacks and charlatans and hardhearted wheeler-dealers, the church will be cleansed. If, on the contrary, they continue to allow themselves to be fooled, in spite of knowing the truth, they will perpetuate this rot and it will get worse.

The time to choose is come. It is now!

Hold your priests and bishops to account in respect of the VOWS they have taken – POVERTY, CHASTITY, OBEDIENCE (obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ)? Insist that they imitate the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing more is required. Church, the Bride of Christ, will no longer be outraged and degraded.

Valson Thampu is an ordained priest who served as the principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. His book, ‘On a Stormy Course’, can be bought onlineYou can follow him at VThampu

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