Dr. James Kottoor on Christmas

By Admin on 08-12-2013

Xstmas means: Becoming Human!

        Christmas, the festival of stars and blinking lights as
we understand it now, is fast approaching. Indian Thoughts has a class of elite
readers who take in the messages we share, to their hearts with a unique
understanding of the content. I found a broad article on Christmas, written by
a popular Indian journalist living in States now. I felt that it would be
appropriate to publish his article in full; I believe this will give a thorough
understanding on what Christmas truly means.   Joseph
Mattappally –Director (Indian Thoughts)

God became What? Humanely Human!

      Forget
becoming Christian! Take a radical detour to the roots of paradise lost where
God created a pair of humane humans in fruit-bearing lush river bed or to
Bethlehem’s manger where “God with us” appeared at home with highly placed
Kings and lowly placed shepherds, with animals and nature. Away with
exploitation, division and exclusion, is the clarion call of Xstmas – Dr. James
Kottoor (The writer can be contacted at: jkottoor@asianetindia.com)

      God became
man! That is the core of Christmas. What message has it for you and me? For me
it has nothing else but this: Become humanely human.  But how? If you need an example, just look at
the Poor Little Man (IL Poverillo) of Assisi, called the second Christ, whom
the present Pope Francis is trying to exemplify in his own life by including in
his loving embrace all humans and environment anywhere and everywhere and
fighting all sort of cultures of exclusion, as his recent Apostolic Exhortation
clearly highlights.

        I have
been toying with this idea for several decades and trying to impress upon others,
perhaps in vain, that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean even becoming a
Christian or compelling others to follow suit which is proselytizing. And
proselytizing is “a solemn nonsense”. Papa Francis has said it.

      More
emphatically didn’t Jesus say: “You hypocrites? You sail the seas and cross
whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed you make him twice as
deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are.” (Mt.23, 15) Definitely there
can’t be a starker indictment of proselytizing.

Jesus stayed a Jew

     And just
think of it! Jesus was a Jew and stayed a Jew all through out – INRI (Iēsus
Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum) = Jesus, King of the Jews, was the inscription put
over the crucified. He never became a Christian. What he became was MAN = SON
OF MAN (repeated 95 times in the Gospels). That is, he became a humanely human
person — an ideal man for all peoples, places, cultures and times especially
befriending the poor, downtrodden, exploited, rejected and excluded by the
comfortable class.

      In this I
have found an ally in William Stringfellow, the legendary lay theologian,
Episcopalian and social critic who died in 1985 at age 56. Discussing the
meaning of authentic Christian discipleship and witness in a war-mongering
nation and the need to fight the prevailing Constantinian compromise — the
accommodation of Christianity to the values of the empire and the preservation
of the status quo, he wrote:

   “I am called
in the Word of God — as is everyone else — to the vocation of being human,
nothing more and nothing less … to be a Christian means to be called to be an
exemplary human being. And to be a Christian categorically does not mean being
religious. Indeed, all religious versions of the gospel are profanities.”

      It is this
ideal Francis Pappa is referring constantly when he says:  I believe in God but he is not a Catholic or
Christian God but of all humans. To the question: Why this Pope is not
addressing Catholics his flock specifically, his answer was his mission was to
shepherd all humanity, all men of good will and not   “remaining shut up within structures
that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh
judges…..within habits that make us feel safe,” as elucidated in his recent
50,000 word Apostolic Exhortation called “Joy of the Gospel”. Why? Because he
says: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has
been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being
confined and from clinging to its own security.”

“Our Father” Excludes None

    Just think of
the prayer “Our Father” Jesus taught and every petition in it. The word “our”
is repeated thrice in it without restricting it to any particular group of
humanity – Christians, believers in a multitude of religions, not even
excluding unbelievers. In the mouth of Jesus “our” included the whole of
humanity. Precisely for that reason, I can never say His prayer and mean every
word of it until I too can include in it all humans, even agnostics, unbelievers
and atheists. The father of the prodigal never ceased to embrace his son with
his magnetic love even when he was living a profligate life. That is the God of
my conception, also of Pope Francis, as far as I can understand him.

      For this
reason whenever I have to say: “To those who love God everything turns out for
their own good”, I substitute God with Good, to include all,  even 
atheists who love Good,  to show
they too are equally included in God’s loving providence. I wrote this some 40
years ago. Think also of the “counter question” about God’s love for
homosexuals, the Pope asked! So Pope Francis makes no bones when he says there
is no Christian God but of all humans. What is important for each one, even
atheists to go to heaven, if there is a heaven, is to follow the commanding
dictates of one’s conscience, which is the voice of God. That has also been the
teaching of Catholic theology I learned from my younger days.

    This
understanding of Jesus and his mission is fraught with serious consequences for
the over 2000 divided churches and for the secular world of conflicting  or mutually exclusive economic philosophies,
each promoting selfish group agendas for self aggrandizement which literally
end up as an “idolatry of money” according to Pope’s  “Magna Charla for church reform”..
This deviation is what is  branded as  Churchianity (also called denominationalism),
the culture of creating divisive or conflicting churches like Latin,
Syro-malabar, Malankara, Knanaya etc.

Christianity instead has to be selfless, all embracing,
and universal. That is what Catholic should mean. So followers of various
churches can be only as good or as bad as any other organized religions or
political parties fighting for domination, thus becoming the biggest threat to
peace and harmony in the world today. Jesus never founded any such new
organized religion. He came to reform and redeem a fallen, degenerated humanity
at odds with one another, literally exploiting one another like Cain
slaughtering his brother — homo homini lupus (Man becoming a wolf to his
brother) — due to his fall from grace, his primordial God-willed love and care
status in total harmony with nature in the Paradise lost.

  Today’s
conglomeration of divided churches can’t be following Jesus who wanted and
prayed that they “all be one”. They in reality are religious colonizers and
empire builders, each blowing its own trumpet and patrimony, not of Jesus, for
promoting own power, position, wealth and domination. Jesus can’t be with any
of these divided churches. By sheer accident of birth or providential
happening, I am born into a Syro-malabar Church community hemmed in by its own
vested interests including territorial expansion. Therefore my option has to be
and is to be part of Margam Koodiyavar (those who choose to follow the path of
Jesus) who are a border-less people and  
crisscross all man-made religious borders, and not to be with any of the
divided churches of today. not ready to merge into one.

Ecumenism, not a Farce?

   Therefore for
me, the whole talk of  divided churches
for ecumenism and unity will ever remain a farce to fool the public. Speaking
on church unity to thronging crowds at the historic Maramon Convention in
Kerala, Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church had said in
substance: “I am wasting my time talking to you on unity, because I fully know
you are all agreed and yearning for it. I should rather turn back and address
all bishops and archbishops of various churches on the Dias who alone are the
biggest road-blocks as they don’t want to give up money power,  positions of prominence and authority in
their particular churches,” as reported by K.M. Roy recently in Mathruboomi
daily.

     A month ago
Baselius Marthoma Dwideeyan, supreme head of Orthodox Church said as much at
an  ecumenical meet  in Changanassery and added those who create
and maintain divisions in the Church are those at the top echelons of  various churches addicted to power and
authority, not those at the bottom.(Sunday Shalom) When two Archdiocesan
Cathedrals, one Latin and other Syromalabar, separated just by a thin wall,
continue to pride themselves as Catholic what do they witness or counter
witness to, for the outside world if not their addiction to Churchianity? Not
to Christianity in any case! Not to unity of mind and heart but to craze for
power and pelf!

Catholic and Protestant Church buildings in Germany, it
was reported, are made  use of, by
different denominations, at fixed hours 
of the day on Sundays and week days, just to avoid overcrowding  the land with costly churches  used during morning hours only and are left
vacant  for the rest of the day. Can our
Bishops and Archbishops think at least of such a minimum cooperation, first
among Catholics – Latin, Syromalabaar or Syromalankara — then at a wider level
between Catholics and other separated Churches? In this context a joined
pastoral letter issued by the Delhi Latin and Syromalbar archdioceses is an
exemplary beginning.

What is more, aren’t we today witnessing at times a
cutthroat competition between parishes and dioceses in putting up imposing and
eye-catching Churches and Cathedrals, (even a tallest stature of Christ aping
Modi’s statue of Patel) in big city centres across India in the name of one who
built no churches, but drove out buyers and sellers who made such edifices a
den of thieves? At the same time we never fail to preach: Homo humus, fama
fumus, finis cinis (Man is mud, fame just smoke and the end of it all just
ashes!)

Break down Berlin Walls

 Many a Berlin
walls have to be demolished before Church unity can become a reality.
Fortunately the Carpenter of Nazareth never built a Cathedral and a throne in
it for himself. But he built and builds living temples not with stones but with
bread and butter, mercy and compassion, 
for the starving poor, broken hearted and stays enthroned in their
hearts as king of love. It is for this purpose that Francis Pappa propounds his
social gospel which is in mortal conflict with the “Trickle-down”
doctrine of a laze-faire brute capitalism with its deceptive gesture to filter
down part of the prosperity of the top rich to the  have-nots at the bottom.

Propounded first by Ronald Regan, US president from
1981, this so-called benign face of the Super Rich pioneered and produced only
just the opposite – not a “trickled-down” prosperity below but a
“siphoned-upward” prosperous society at the top that made the wealthiest
increase their profit by 400% while 93% of the poor become poorer — this,
despite an 80% increase in worker productivity since 1981 according to reports.
The promise was, that when the wealthiest were allowed to run their business
unhindered by regulation or taxation a lion’s share  of their profits would be invested inevitably
in the market to create  more jobs
and  higher income for the rest of the
poor jobless in  society.

But facts proved that it only created a culture of
comfort, prompting the rich to leap for undreamt of comforts in their “pursuit
of happiness”; a culture of waste – of just use and throw away  to have a taste of innumerable virgin items
they have surround themselves  with, and
a culture of indifference towards the have-nots for whom what is thrown away
would be  luxury. This is the tragic
hierarchical divisions, inequalities and exclusive comfort zones both in Church
and society that Pope Francis laments.

Thou shall not Kill, to 
Politicians

Thinking specifically of the political class he even
broke into a prayer: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are
genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, and the lives of the
poor!” To those not disturbed he asks: “How can it be that it is not a
news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when
the stock market loses two points?” and insists to apply the commandment
“Thou shall not kill” equally saying: 'thou shall not' to the tyranny of an economy
of cut throat competition creating exploitation, inequality, violence and death
of the excluded from the level playing field.   

  So the scandal
of divided churches and divided economic and political zones and world
governments will continue sine die. But all can at least help reduce the sting
of divisions and exclusions by following Francis Pappa’s example of addressing
the concerns – economic, social, moral and spiritual — not only of the
registered members of one’s own  divisive
group but of all humans in and around the confines of their pastoral or
political care. For Catholics it should mean ministering on priority basis
without distinction of creed, class and caste to all in diocesan and parish
boundaries. That is the meaning of Pope’s call to get out of the “Church of
sacristy” to go to meet those in the periphery.

So what  we are
called upon  to do at this Christmas is
to redouble efforts to inflame  in us
those dead or dying embers of humane humanity modeled on Jesus the crass,
“crazy”, “possessed”(Mk 3.21 & 22),   
carpenter of Nazareth — if that is too tall an order, modeled on the
poor man of Assisi who became second Christ, or at least modeled on 76 year old
Pope Francis whose simple life and humble humane approach to all and sundry
shows the way how to win friends and influence people for good across the
globe!.

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