Diocese of Salem, TN, India. For a Synodal Church: COMMUNION, PARTICIPATION AND MISSION
The communion of God and Humanity are achieved by Jesus through his incarnation, death and resurrection (Eph 1:10). The creative word of God through whom all life came to be, is the light of the World. The mutual indwelling, interpenetration of the Holy Trinity is the fullness of Participation (Perichoresis). The Greek term refers to the relationship of God in three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The mission exists dynamically, in the act of creation; God’s mission is the creation – redemption and the new creation of the world. (Jn. 1:1-18). Behold I make all things new (Rev.21: 5); New heaven and a new earth is what the believers long for (Rom.8:19). Jesus the Christ, is the Light that enlightens every man and woman (Jn 1:9, 8:12 9:39) in all generations of Human history. This Light is always coming to renew every generation of people. The Churches’ mission is to create this communion with Him, and with every human being. The very existence of the church is to carry on, to continue the mission of God.
The Assembly of God makes an effort to achieve this mission of communion and participation. They are not separate concepts, but dynamically interrelated. At the beginning of the Church, on the day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was experienced by the Blessed Mother and the Apostles; while they were united in prayer with single intent, mind and heart (Acts 1:14), where the first community and communion was formed. Peter’s speech at Pentecost quotes prophet of Joel: “it shall come to pass in the last days, God says that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, the young men shall see visions, old men shall dream dreams and handmaids shall prophesy and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls upon the name of the Lord” (Acts 2: 16-21). When people heard the message of Peter, they were cut to the heart, asked him, ‘what we have to do, my brothers?’; Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-41). The journey of the Synod is the revival of repentance and baptismal life for the life of the World; and that is the Mission.
‘Synod’ is an ancient and venerable word in the Tradition of the Church, whose meaning draws on the deepest themes of Revelation. It indicates the path along which the People of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents Himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14: 6), and to the fact that Christians, His followers, were originally called ‘followers of the Way’ (cf. Acts 9: 2). So the focus of the synodal journey is to walk with Jesus and community.
What prevents Communion: There is no sufficient element of participation. The laity is kept still as pray, pay and obey Christians. The clergy has high jacked the church through clericalism and authoritarianism hiding behind the cloak of holiness; thus it prevented participation of the people in the parish administration. When there is no transparency, abuses set in over the flock, money corruption, abuse of children and sexual molestation of women and men. ‘Corruption of the best is the worst’ The caste mentality is inherited by Indians, due to 3000 years old cultural tradition. All are victims of this evil; Christians are no exceptions. Besides within the Church there is power struggle among the caste groups such as ST/SC/OBC and FC/BC caste groups and sub-caste fractions, clamoring for liberation from oppressive of socio-economic structures and each group striving for power within the Church. This does not help to build communion. Through education and targeted awareness program we can come out of this evil.
On the other hand India’s secularism is at stake threatened by BJP/RSS claiming that India is a country for Hindus, where Sanathana-dharma has to be followed. There are no equal rights and opportunities in this system for men and women for their growth and development. People are made to believe that they were created by God into caste hierarchy of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, which creates a division not communion (Hindustantimes.com “The origins of caste system in India”). These systems were created for self-governance within the groups. The Manusmirti is outdated. We cannot follow these anachronistic texts as a normative principle for the society today. We are all Indians; Is injustice and inequality is what you heap on Indians? No, all must be given equal rights and opportunities. The identity of an Indian is his/her citizenship neither religion nor caste.In the 18th century French revolution called for “equality, freedom and fraternity”. The enlightenment period and Second World War has brought UNO which in 1948 declared the human right charter, calling for equal rights enforcing the already achieved enlightenments that will help to build worldwide communion and peace.
‘The Church is falling apart’, in many parts of the world, the laity are tired of their bishops and clergy who do not promote trust among the people in their beliefs and devotion. They are not concerned with their lives and difficulties. This does not help to build communion. We need to re-focus about ‘the Way’ of Jesus and the vision of Jesus. This can be achieved only through living the paschal mystery of Jesus, dying for the people, for their development and well-being.
The Synod we are talking about is to enlist the participation of the faithful, to building solidarity by listening to them in a spirit of communion of the one body of the baptized. The fuller participation is the biggest strength of this synodal process. A synod may help to clear all the junk and filth, acquired by the church along the years. We are already burdened with cultural and institutional divisions that prohibit fuller participation in life, worship, and service. As the communion and participation remain ritually, the true bond of community is not realized. We shall return to the roots of the early Church “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts. 2:42-47). This is the supreme example of participation in the plan of God, though it sounds idealistic.
We have spoken and written enough through Ecumenical councils such as Vatican II, national and regional conferences, such as FABC, CBCI, and CCBI. They give good messages, but practice is lacking. Let us put on the garment of humility and get to the work of our Lord Jesus. (I Pet 5:2-6). The life style of ministers of God should not be above the life style of the faithful. We shall meet the people, listen to them and discern prayerfully together to fulfill their needs.
The communicating the good news of the Gospel to the People of the World is rooted in the lived synodality of the paschal life of Jesus. Let us simply follow him. The new way of being the Church today is to follow Jesus in the way he showed us. This involves carrying the cross daily in our life-difficulties. Incarnation- method of Jesus is all embracing. That is his life, his teachings, his death and resurrection; in the same spirit we have to meet the realities of life and respond to them. We become hypocrites when we do not practice the message we preach.
The Christian community at its deepest level is a communion (koinonia) in the Holy Trinity. It is dependent on the spirit of Jesus, a life begun in the rebirth of Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist. We are called to participation and to practice co-responsibility of all the members in its mission (LG 32-33). This process is ongoing and never comes to an end. Mission is a pastoral spiral; social analysis of the signs of the times; the experiences of the people are taken into account in reflecting and discerning, through prayer and respond to them in pastoral planning. Every day is a new day; the people we meet are also new. Therefore its mission of reconciliation is ever old and ever new (FABC III, 7:1-9). Therefore participation is a non-negotiable requirement both for communion and mission. At the local churches participatory measures already exist. They need to be strengthened. The parish councils, pastoral councils, financial councils and lay groups that promote the Apostolic work should be encouraged. Men and women to the extent possible should participate equally.
Participation is lacking mostly because of unwillingness of the faithful and lack of training is cited as lacuna in the mission. This should be rectified. In general there is a lack of proper catechism and the instruction on the policies of the Church. Cultural element of male chauvinism should be broken.
India needs the values of Jesus Christ. Accordingly the Christian community, ‘is called to serve life’ that is our Mission (FABC VI, 3). That is, the dialogue with the poor, for their economic, educational, health care and sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all the United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for the people and planet, now and for the future. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are an urgent call for action by all countries-developed and developing-in a global partnership. ‘Leave no one behind’ is the principle of common good. They recognize that, ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with the strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, all the while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests (Laudato Si). The Christian community must adopt the SDGs proposed by the UNO and collaborate in implementing these goals for the benefit of humanity.
In India, in today’s charged political atmosphere associated with “Hindutva”, the Sang Parivar, does not like diversity; But that is the core of Indian democracy. In this context we must create dialogue with people of all religions and cultures. Any one-dimensional bigotry should be resisted by all. Whether it is Hindu, Islamic, or Christian, fundamentalism should be avoided. In any country the dominant political culture, should not persecute the minority. The International community must take note of it, and call out that such behavior is not acceptable in a civilized society. Where this occurs, that country should be sanctioned politically and economically. The mission of promoting human dignity and peace on earth calls for it. The suffering involved in this mission of God is the way to salvation and fulfillment. That is the way of Jesus.
The mission of God and existential situation calls for ‘Unity in Diversity’. The caste structure should be dismantled both within the church and society. We need to put pressure on the government to have census taken based on the financial status of the people and not on the caste and religion. This may help to build communion. Since all religions recognize that God is ONE; they must also recognize humanity is ONE as children of God (Fratelli Tutti), to whatever way of life they belong to and whatever faith they practice. The common code of Ethics is to follow the human rights carved in the all humans’ hearts. All people should be able to follow the human rights charter proclaimed in 1948 by UNO. Even those who do not believe in God certainly have concern for humanity and they too follow ethical principles that protect life. Therefore we must learn to avoid conflicts, war among the nations through negotiations and promote peace and harmony.
War and nuclear armaments of war are a very big business today. They breed violence against one another; and the nations of the world are engaged in bullying one against another in a competition, to see who is the greatest? They steal the resources of the Earth, the oceans and the forests and call it their own income. The resources of this planet belong to all people. The poor are not able to raise their voice against the multi-national who steals from them. The bio-sphere is common to all. Science and technology, artificial intelligence and cyber weapons are posing a big threat to the whole of humanity. We all have experienced the effects of Bio-war and unleashed by the Corona virus and its mutations are an existential threat to humanity. Similarly chemical weapons and nuclear weapons is a red-line not to be crossed because of cruelty and suffering they cause. For a better world, we have to build worldwide movement to protest peacefully and stop all nuclear weapons; even nuclear energy
used for peaceful purposes is questioned for their safety. All must learn to live, think and share together to survive. We must save the planet for the future generations.
Human beings must learn to respect human life from womb to the tomb. Learn to respect the girl child and grown-up girls. They are not commodities to be used or abused. The Church, with others, must fight the evil of sex trafficking of women and children, and appeal to the international community to help, to stop exploiting the children to promote dignity and respect of all the people. The church must also confess her own sins and atrocities done over the years.
In an asymmetric world of globalization, a nation is favored against another nation, in trade pacts, in hiring labor due to the level of their skills and color of the people. This racial and economic discrimination should be rectified wherever it takes place. All people should be given equal opportunities. This is part of the mission of the United Nations (UNO). Remember, the Hebrew people were exploited and forced to work as salves under Egyptian Pharaohs. Exodus event might have provided the freedom from slavery through God’s intervention, but it has not set economic freedom, where they can work, eat and live freely and peacefully. It is a task for the man and his neighbors and to achieve it for all.
Sin is the domination of one person over the other. Exploitation takes place in economics, possession of the land, seas and forests where one is forced to labor and submit to the multi-national companies. The same is true also in IT (Information technology) and BT (Bio-technology), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and so on. Wherever domination takes place at the exclusion of the other is a sin. Domination can be also in sexual relations and human relations among the brothers and sisters. We are living in a sinful world. To reverse sin and domination, participation is the key. Participation is a necessary structure we have to follow. Participation and transparency can dismantle sin. And yet the evil one is so subtle, that is all around us. “But the evil roaming the earth and patrolling it” (Job 1:7). Sin is a demon lurking at the door (Gen4:7). The enemy can sow seeds that are poisonous at night when everyone is asleep (Mt13:25). So we must pray together and be alert. That is why our Lord Jesus said “Watch and Pray” (Mt 26:41). Participation is a journey, led by the Holy Spirit, together with others to do the right thing.
The church as the moral voice of the world needs to proclaim both to the people of God and to the international community, the urgent need for conversion and reconciliation from sinful structures, be they economics structure or human relations. We must also learn to avoid conflicts and find ways of working together. Development and peace are achieved in constant struggles and negotiations. The Salem diocese is willing to cooperate to the extent possible in this mission. The Lord requires of you: Only do the right thing, Love goodness, walk humbly
Rev. Fr. Lucas Thumma, S.T.L., S.T.D. [email protected], Salem Diocese