He Did Not Tell To Lead But Feed My Sheep

Light of truth

Paul Achandy CMI

Do you think the Syro-Malabar Church will continue in the same missionary thrust and the fervour of faith and the missionary activity as it is now?
I think so. Mission is not man made project. It is God’s work and His project. Like any project, in mission also, there will be a lifeline and lifecycle, ups and downs in different seasons. Mere rational, technical, sociological and economic analysis won’t be sufficient in deciding on mission movements. There is a substantial difference between a missionary and a tourist. The tourist has his own road map and private agenda and it is for his entertainment. Missionary is an ambassador of the Lord and the road map and agenda are set by the Lord and it will be discerned through the hotline with the Lord and community. Jonah Syndrome of moving to one’s own interested territories of Tarshish instead of the right destination of Nineveh has been a missionary temptation. There is a perception of decline in vocation. God’s way of doing things has a model. The harvest is plentiful; the labourers are few; hence pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more labourers. If the labourers are plentiful and the harvest is not much, there will be deeper crises. A stretchable goal to reach far and fide with optimum labourers walking extra miles is the need of the hour. While the Lord spoke of labourers, He did not make an exclusive category of bishops, priests and the religious, but the lay missionaries too. Such an exclusive outlook is against the spirit of the Gospel and mission. What matters is the quality of the people, more than the title and position. For example, in Kerala, we find highly enlightened lay ministers. If they are truly empowered, they can not only replace but also make things better in many engagements presently the bishops, priests and the religious are engaged in. Better theologians, preachers and teachers and social activists are seen among them. Movements like Jesus Youth and Fiat have proven their mettle with their preaching, campus ministry, youth animation, bible distribution, intercessory prayer and social outreach. The qualified and competent lay people devoid of personal gains will make a significant breakthrough if they are placed and empowered in public domains. After Pentecost, the apostle spoke the language of the people and the laity guided by the Spirit can speak simple, grace filled and contextual language of the people straight from the guts of their life. Theology is no more from the boardrooms of the ecclesiastical universities, but evolved out of the heart and struggles of the people. Theology is no more faith seeking justification, faith seeking understanding and finally theology is for mission and hence any theology is missiology. I find a God who will surprise Syro Malabar Church who will send inclusive category of labourers capitalizing on the power of the laity for a great missionary catch. It is only a question of casting the net to the right side; we will let God work through us.

Traditional religiosity is coming down and traditional attachment to the Church is also slackening. Do you see that in such a context a new way of being the Church will emerge tomorrow?
The fact that traditional religiosity is coming down poses another opportunity to evolve something relevant and contextual. It is also time for de-learning religiosity and re-learning authentic spirituality. We need Christ, but not the Church. In all spheres of life there is a clash of original and duplicate, authentic and fake. To be attractive and relevant, there shall be signs of originality. In any organization, there occurs a decline and it demands a revival or it will end up in death or disaster. In religious life a new model evolves, grows, reaches maturity, then declines and until it revives and takes a renewed form, it dies and the life cycle has been for almost 300 years. Those religious communities that refounded itself survived the test of the time. Even though the Berlin wall has crumbled down, the walls and glass ceilings within the Church still exist. Twenty first century should be a century of the laity. Then what is the role of the bishops and the priests? By the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter, ‘do you love me more than these?’ After listening to the answer three times, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Somehow we have taken “Feed my sheep” as lead my sheep. He didn’t tell them to lead my sheep, to feed. Church exercised power and authority over the sheep than feeding them or serving them (diakonia). Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? (Ezekiel 34:2).

The Lord complains against the shepherds of Israel, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezekile 34:4) and “the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep,” (Ezekiel 34:8). The same is true of the present days and Pope Francis invites the bishops and priests to have the smell of the sheep. The role of the priest or the bishop is to feed, not really to administer or exercise power and authority. We are called to feed them with the right food, both healthy and tasty. In a culture of fast junk food, like Jesus, we are called to feed with a personal touch. Once a young man was asked by a priest, “Why don’t you attend the Church? Have you no spiritual hunger? Then a smart young man replied, “I am hungry, but you are not tasty and healthy.” It is challenging to feed the people with the right food, diet; both tasty and healthy. Some serve tasty food that is not healthy and some serve healthy food that is not tasty. But many are fed by them in the name of being the leader.

It is something very serious, not to lead but feed. Do you think a paradigm shift, a deconstruction is inevitable in our scenario especially the hierarchies understanding of leadership and its power of leading in the Church?
I am very optimistic and there is a real change. Because of the contexts in which we are in, I find a ray of hope in Syro-Malabar Church’s newly appointed bishops. I find real change in some of the new bishops’ attitude and way of behaviour. More than the autocratic and dictatorial styles of I am OK, you are not OK, a process of community discernment through dialogue is taking place. We find more shepherd and servant leadership styles with a sense of stewardship and accountability. Bishops have become more approachable, more friendly, more down to earth and there is a higher spirit of engagement and empowerment. Leadership by example is the only believable leadership paradigm in this era of public scrutiny and mobocracy.

The Kerala community was deeply divided by caste and religion. Then there was the tragedy of flood happening. It showed a miraculous tendency to cross fences. Humanism found evident expression, especially among the youth. It was sort of a miracle. Do you think this has something to do with the core of the Malayali?
Despite all the criticisms leveled against Kerala society, it is highly, socially committed and very hard working. They left their homes and moved to tough terrains for the sake of family. The migration to desert lands of the Gulf or developed countries of North America, Europe and Australia or countries in Africa and Latin America shows their commitment to families. At the same time they are an indisciplined at times within God’s own country, known for hyper criticism and for creative as well as negative political thinking. Kerala mindset is to rise to the occasion and to face the challenges. The hangover of the old cast ridden mindset is rooted in our thinking despite the educational empowerment. Kerala model has been well appreciated for long though in recent times, it has its negative factors. But the recent flood in Kerala proved the mettle of Kerala community’s readiness to reach out to the one in need. Malayaleies are very united in emergency and critical situations, whereas in norms days, we will fight each other with the same spirit. Malayalies are sometimes very rough and rude, but selfless to the core. The warmth of relationship and fellowship is something very unique about Keralites. The flood has taught us to revive our spirit of onam, equality, fraternity and prosperity of all. The fishermen of Kerla stood out during the flood for their altruism and self sacrifice and the whole administrative machine and every Keralite joined hands to face the challenges. But after the flood, the political situation in Kerala has become worse and the devotees have become victims of political scoring of the selfish parties.

Have we converted our Christianity into more theology than spirituality?
Christianity is way of life. Christians are known as those who follow the way–Jesus. Christianity is practice than theory. Feed my sheep is the command of Jesus. It will be repeated in the Final Judgment Day: “Did you feed the hungry?” Christian spirituality gives us immense opportunity to find God in the neighbour. Our God experience is a love experience of our brothers and sisters, being engaged in their struggles. Our contemplation and proclamation shall lead to concrete action of becoming flesh – to be broken and shed for the other. A community living with and living for the other is the most believable gospel. Hence we are in need of an adult spirituality surpassing the ritualism. We do not let our people grow in spirituality. People look to the East especially to India for silence and meditation. The Church has to teach its people to read the gospel and meditate so that they will make the right discernment of conversion and course correction. We are in need of mystics in leading people as authentic Gurus. During the Constantine regime, we have lost the soul of the Church in its royal structures. The challenge of renewal in all times is to fall back to the original Church of Christ. Though they were persecuted for witnessing their life, they gained the attention of the society out of their love for each other.

Don’t you think that we have to be totally different from the kind of power structure Constantine established?
Constantine supported the Church with all the privileges and the language of the Church went for a six. The manger was replaced by palaces – bishop’s palace. Cardinals have become princes of the empire. Secular values of kingdom overthrew even the religious language of the sheep and shepherd. Today we can think of an ABCDE paradigm shift for our leaders and leadership philosophies. A: from Administration to Accompaniment; B: from Blaming to Believing; C: from Conformity to Creativity; D: from Discipline to Dialogue; E: from Endorsement to Empowerment. Now there are many who study Master of Business Administration (MBA) to to take leadership position in the Church and to run Church institutions. But the very purpose of business is transaction and making money or profit. The purpose of Church is transformation and salvation. Jesus transformed Peter from catching fish to catch men and develop them complete human beings who grow in stature and wisdom and in favour with men and God. Hence our MBA shall be Management By Agape (self-emptying love). We are here not to govern, but to inspire and feed people with food that will satisfy their hunger.

You are a Superior General, you are an ordinary priest, and you are a Catholic. How do you live with the scandals among us?
Jesus has said ‘it’s quiet natural that scandals exist in the world. Woe to him by whom scandals come! We will surely be held responsible for our failure to shepherd the flock as we should. “Everyone to whom much is given of him will much be required”(Luke 12:48).The challenge of the religious congregation like CMI is to read the signs of the times and make the right discernment and prepare the members to convert the crisis into an opportunity. Hence we focused on putting our house in order with renewal and ongoing formation programmes. We designed CMI Renewal to make CMI family relevant in today’s context with Contemplative Spirit, Missionary Heart and Immaculate Living (CMI).We tried to relook at ourselves from outsiders’ perspective and it has been a great learning and we are making a scientific study on life and mission in order to make new momentum in evangelization. Crises are opportunities to straighten ourselves and make things better through strategic discernment.

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