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Time for Transformation

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
06 Mar 2023
Pope Francis is on a great mission of transforming the Church into Synodal mode. As it is clear from his statements, being synodal involves mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.

Every year the Christians, especially Catholics, observe the Lenten season that culminates in the remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. During the Lent the faithful are advised to do penance like fasting on Fridays, abstinence from meat and some other items. Participating in the way of the cross is a devotion specially observed during the lent. Generally, there are two motives behind the concept of penance during the Lenten season: 1) to express solidarity with Jesus in His suffering and 2) to do reparation for one’s sins.

The main objective of observing the Lent is to make an introspection into the lives of the followers of Jesus and to bring about a radical transformation. Unfortunately, the conversion aspect is not adequately emphasized in the midst of devotions and too much emphasis is on the physical suffering of Jesus.

John the Baptist and Jesus started their mission with a clarion call for a radical conversion in the people. John told people to give up their old ways and turn to God by adopting a new way of life. “Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15). In fact, both of them were calling people for a metamorphic transformation, a transformation similar to that of a pupa into a beautiful butterfly. It is an evolutionary and revolutionary transformation. What is expected from the followers of Jesus during the lent is a total transformation, a transformation in their thinking, value system, behaviour and relationships.  

Gospel of Luke 3: 10 to 14 refer to three dimensions of the transformation that has to take place in the followers of Jesus as individuals and as communities. People were very much enamoured and influenced by the fiery and challenging speeches by John the Baptist and they were ready to do anything as an expression of their willingness to undergo change. As per the Gospel description three types of people were present in the crowd. All of them wanted a concrete proposal from John the Baptist.

The ordinary people came to John and asked him, “What are we to do?” Jesus told them, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it” (Lk. 10:11). What is its application to the life of the followers of Jesus?

They are expected to share their resources with the poor and the needy people. The resources include time, personal talents, skills and knowledge, materials like food, clothes, money, etc. When one comes to know that his/her neighbour is hospitalized and that the family is direly in need of someone to be with the patient in the hospital, he/she shall be ready to help the family by offering his/her time to be with the patient. In the same way, the followers of Jesus need to support people who are hungry, homeless, especially during natural and man-made calamities when people lose everything.

According to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 700 million people are hungry in the world. If millions of people go to sleep with an empty stomach, it is not because the world doesn’t have food grains; food grain production has always exceeded population growth. It is because of the greed and hoarding mentality of some people and reluctance to share their resources with the needy, millions of people in the world live in poverty. While millions of people are hungry, a lot of food is being wasted in marriages and other parties. According to several research reports, approximately 40% of the food prepared at wedding venues in India is being wasted (Food wastage in Indian Weddings by Nikita Iris Samuel in Venuelook on January 27, 2020). Wasting food is a serious crime when lakhs of people are hungry. Do the followers of Jesus educate their children about the crime of wasting food, water, electricity and other resources?

Sensitivity and compassion to the needy is the core of spirituality according to the teachings of Jesus. Through the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus and the parable of the Last Judgement, Jesus has taught his followers that sensitivity and compassion expressed in helping the needy, the poor and the destitute is the essence of spirituality.   

The Church as an institution has to examine whether its various activities are contributing to build an equitable world. According to the latest report of the Oxfam, the bottom 50% of India has only 13% of national income and the bottom 50% has only 3% of the nation’s wealth. 23 crore people in India live in abject poverty as stated by P Chidambaram during the recently concluded AICC session. Lent is a time for a serious introspection on the part of the Church with regard to its social and educational interventions; whether the Church is adequately responding to the increasing inequalities in Indian society.

The second group of people who came to John the Baptist was tax collectors. They also asked John, “What are we to do?” John told them, “Don’t collect more than [what] is legal” (Lk 10:13). You should not extract more than what is legally permitted. You should be satisfied with the wages you get. The followers of Jesus are expected to desist from any kind of exploitation of other human beings, any illegal and unethical method of amassing money. All human beings can have the temptation of exploiting others. Some people have the temptation of exploiting women and children.

Trafficking of women and children for prostitution and cheap labour is a serious crime and sin. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau data, a total of 2,189 cases of human trafficking were registered in 2021 as compared to 1,714 in 2020, showing an increase of 27.7 per cent. Is the Church as an institution responding adequately to the issue of illegal human trafficking? It is heartening to note that some nuns are involved in the mission of rescuing women and children who are the victims of illegal trafficking and rehabilitating them.  

Corruption has become part of public life. Taking bribes and giving bribes have become part of the system and many people do not see them as something illegal or unethical. Some say, “We have to be practical”. Often bribes are given through contractors and middle men to get permissions from government departments. Many people do not find anything wrong in this practice. The followers of Jesus have to ask themselves whether they are giving witness to Jesus by giving bribes to get the things done.

The third group of people that came to John was soldiers. They also asked the same question, “What are we to do? John told them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay” (Lk 10: 14). All adult human beings exercise authority in one form or the other at different levels. Parents have authority over their children. Teachers have authority over their students and the principal has authority over the teachers and other staff. Authority and power are given to a person for the sake of service.

People who are in authority may have the temptation to misuse or abuse authority. Political leaders often misuse authority to take revenge or put down their opponents. The government often makes use of the investigating agencies like CBI, ED, NIA and Income Tax Department to harass and defame its political opponents and those who are critical of its policies. Religious leaders also sometimes use their authority and power to harass, humiliate and punish, sometimes in most inhuman way, those who disagree with them or oppose them. 

Lent is an occasion for the followers of Jesus to introspect whether they are misusing power given to them for the sake of their office. The authorities in the Church are expected to become good shepherds, according to the teachings of Jesus. They are expected to know their people, understand their views and problems, care for them and be ready to make any sacrifice and even lay down their lives for the sake of their people. Jesus has unambiguously said that they should not be like hired servants who do not care for the sheep, who are only concerned about themselves and their self-interests. They have to go in search of the strayed sheep with compassion and not with a vengeance to punish them.

Above all, lent is a season for reconciliation and in the case of a conflict between a leader and the people the initiative for reconciliation has to come from the leader. For Jesus the topmost priority was forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus was fully aware of the fact that the root cause of many small and big wars is reluctance to forgive. The Gospels have a good number of parables and teachings on the inevitability of forgiveness. The only prayer Jesus taught his disciples emphasizes the need for forgiving others. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. If we do not forgive others, we have no right to receive forgiveness from God.

Jesus has said unmistakably that without reconciliation, sacrifices and worship are not acceptable to God. In the absence of forgiveness and reconciliation, sacrifice becomes an abomination. A parable that highlights the inevitability of forgiving others to deserve the forgiveness of God is the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21-35).

Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus, including the leaders in the Church, fail to present themselves as role models of forgiveness. On the contrary, often they become scandals because of their stubborn and arrogant behaviour of not willing to listen to others and ready to forgive them. Taking revenge is totally unchristian even if it is done under the guise of law and legality. If the leaders, who advise the faithful to forgive, resort to revenge on any issue, they are betraying Jesus.

Pope Francis is on a great mission of transforming the Church into Synodal mode. As it is clear from his statements, being synodal involves mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. “In the one People of God, therefore, let us journey together, in order to experience a Church that receives and lives this gift of unity, and is open to the voice of the spirit,” says Pope Francis. According to Pope Francis, communion is not imposing uniformity but it is “cohesion and interior fullness, in grace, truth and collaboration….. and mission, that is apostolic commitment to the world of today”. Pope Francis has emphasized the need for participation of all in the decision-making process. “All the baptized are called to take part in the Church’s life and mission.”

In order to face the challenges today, the Church needs a metamorphic transformation by making participation, transparency and accountability as its hallmarks. It has to undergo a paradigm shift from ritualism, legalism and dogmatism to the way of Jesus, His mind and heart. Legalism, ritualism and dogmatism together had led to inhumanities and cruelties like inquisition and burning heretics in the Church during the Middle Ages. Returning to the three pillars of religious fundamentalism will only lead to disaster in the Church, although the leaders may be tempted to use them to increase their control over people and suppress differing views.  

Thus, lent is a season for a total and beneficial transformation by forgiving and reconciling with others, by sharing one’s resources with the poor and the needy, by making serious efforts to build a more equitable society, by desisting from all kinds of exploitation and abuse of power and above all transforming all institutions and organizations, within the church, into more participatory, transparent and accountable. 

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