There Are No Ideals outside Christ

Light of Truth

Jose Therattil

You retired as the Assistant General Manager of SBI, how fulfilling is the job of a bank employee?
I took up a job in a bank not for fulfilment, but merely for earning my bread. Personally, I would have preferred a teaching career, but it was difficult to come by. Having spent 7 years in the seminary, I could not wait much longer for financial independence and jumped on to this job. Having found myself in the company of Mammon, after an initial period of unease, I tried to find joy in my job. And I did find joy in it. I also found ways and means to uphold my Christian humanistic values that my long seminary formation had instilled into me in my work atmosphere. Fulfillment in life is profession-agnostic.

You were a seminarian in Pune seminary, why did you withdraw from your desire to become a priest?
Three years of philosophy and wide reading during that time exposed me to a world which, at that time, I thought did not gel with the life of a priest. Life of a priest is challenging on several fronts, theologically, philosophically, biologically and socially. I felt I was unequal to those challenges. Perhaps, the world outside gave equal opportunities for sanctity and heroism, without those challenges. May be, I took the easier road.
Now, looking back, there are times I think it was an immature decision, and I could have handled those challenges.
How did the training you underwent help you in life?
The seminary life has been the greatest influence of my life. It gave me self awareness, self confidence, courage of conviction, firm grounding in faith and hope, a humanitarian perspective and the belief that selfishness is the greatest sin to be avoided. It has made me remain patient, gentle and helpful in office, never engage in office politics for personal gains, and at the same time use my skills, horned in the seminary days, for the benefit of my organization and customers.
Without such a training, I am sure, I would not have succeeded in my profession as much as I have and certainly would not have found joy and fulfillment in life as I have now.

As you are catholic, can I ask, how do you keep your faith or what is faith for you?
My philosophy training and whatever initiation into theology I had has led me to a faith that considers the external structure of Christian dogma to be a mere symbol or shell that should lead to the development of a spiritual state of mind that believes in God, believes in the power of the spirit and truth, and the primacy of love of fellow human beings over everything else. I don’t attach much importance to the rituals or dogmas. While participating in the rituals, I always try to reflect on their essence and the spiritual experiences that would have engendered their original enactment. Say, for example, the Holy Mass as an invitation for self sacrifice when called for, sacraments a reminder of the importance of the event or stage of life, or rites for the dead as essentially a prayer for the living. They are salutary experiences for me.
Similarly, in the matters concerning faith, beyond the words of the dogma, I think of the circumstances and the experiences that led to the origin of such faith, the rationale for retaining or discarding those tenets. My readings in form criticism, and the intertwining of history, literature and faith in the Bible and various attempts to interpret the bible has helped me to follow this path in matters of faith.

In the church you hear scandals related to money and property, as a banker what do you have to say to the church?
The church has become too institutionalized to carry out its original calling. This has led to such unsavory denouements. For the sake of institutions, we amass unaccounted wealth, engage in bribery and corruption, find ways and means to circumvent laws of the land, bargain for power and throw away our concern for the poor and the gospel precepts. As a layman, I feel the Syro Malabar Church leadership has failed their community by succumbing to the ways of the world and emerging as men with feet of clay. A sudden, total change may not be practical, but we have to return to our Christian roots and gradually extricate ourselves from these snares. A beginning has to be made.
On a larger canvas, it is possible to think that church being a slice of the world, such defects are bound to be there. If so, what is the difference in being Christian? It is our Christian mandate, to be a conscience of the world and an example for the world to emulate.

St. Thomas Aquinas asked a question: Is truth more powerful than kingdom, wine and women? Is truth more powerful? Why?
Truth certainly is powerful than kingdoms and other material accomplishments. And ultimately, truth is bound to prevail. That is the single central point of Christian faith – against apparent failure and destruction, ultimately the spirit and truth would emerge victorious.
But modern technology, digital communication etc easily succeeds in obfuscating truth. Nobody is sure of what the actual truth is. When nobody is sure of the truth, how can any truth prevail? This is the tragedy of our times.

How do you evaluate the influence of market economy in the different fields of life, is money the Divinity?
Market has conquered humanity. It is as if we have set the genie free out of the pot and do not know how to put it back into the pot. Money rules our lives, as the citizen of a nation, member of a society, employee of an organization etc. However, on personal level, most men realize the worthlessness of money, but are unable to exorcise the devil in their lives. Nations, societies, organizations, religions are more ruled by money, than are individuals.
Most of humanity’s resources including all our inventions including the computers and internet are put in service of the market economy that currently that is the only yardstick we have to measure success or fulfillment, so to say. It is leading us into perdition, to ecological disaster. Perhaps, we should start reading Thoreau, Gandhi and Tolstoy again.

Who is Christ for you? How does he challenge you in your everyday life? You are very interested in literature, why did you turn to literature?
To me Christ is the ultimate idea and ideal one can strive for. That does not mean there are no ideals outside Christ. For me Christ himself directs us to those ideals outside him.
The greatest challenge is the call for self sacrifice and throwing away one’s life for one’s faith and ideals. I am not sure I am equal to that.
Temperamentally, I am a pacifist and there are occasions when I think that He need not have precipitated matters to a point of laying down his life and could have tried softer methods to achieve his goals. This is an idea that principles of modern management (management teaches managing contradictions to avert a flash point) put into my head and may be sheer foolishness in the context.
I had interest in literature from very early days and my seminary days nourished it. Literature is capable of delving into the innermost recesses of man, identify his thirst and hunger and express them evocatively through brilliant words. It is the most powerful medium of understanding oneself and communicating with oneself. I did not have the courage to pursue it as a profession.

As a lay person, what do you think is the role of the laity in the church? Why perhaps you keep a distance?
The laity should take a greater role in the church, no doubt. Many people keep a distance from the church, because for most of us, church means rituals and institutions. Rituals are done mostly by the clergy, and naturally lay people do not see a larger role for them than being observers and passive participants. Institutions have their own authority structure and dynamics and it is natural that those who do not wield any power there do not become involved.
Perhaps, if the sense of being on the “pilgrimage” as a people of God is nurtured, and given primacy over worldly pursuits of the church , I think the laity can be brought back.

You are a family man with two sons and your wife, as a professional how do you make your family rich in meaning love and the mutual relationship of life?
The firm footing I received in Christian values of love, brotherhood and compassion from my seminary life has been the bulwark of our family. The children has grown up in this milieu into responsible and socially conscious citizens. Christian faith, catechetic, prayers and hymns have played a crucial role in their formation. Christ, in turn, has blessed our family with peace and togetherness and reasonable material comforts. If there is one attitude that all members of our family hold on to steadfastly, it is the sense of gratitude that we carry in our hearts for His blessings, which perhaps we did not deserve.

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