God bless Mr. Neville Jayaweera for his article ‘A Christmas Lament on 18th December. It is an eye opener for all Christians. He says that the way we celebrate Christmas is more pagan than Christian. He also says that the most important thing for a Christian is personal experience of Jesus, not church-going, ritual or ceremony.
Mr. Jayaweera did not target Catholics. But I asked myself ‘What’s wrong with my Church, the Catholic Church?’ I see two major failures. The first is we don’t experience Jesus Christ. Our religion is not an institution, a hierarchy, a sacramental system, a doctrine or a set of devotions, but a person, a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity is Jesus Christ. He loved us, suffered and died for us. He asked us to love Him. He said ‘Come to Me, Give up everything and follow Me, Love me more than anyone else - father, mother, wife or children’. We believe all this, but in our practical lives we have no personal intimacy or friendship with Jesus. He knocks at the door of our hearts, we don’t hear. He is in us. But we don’t experience Him.
Fifty years ago, the Pope and Bishops met in the Second Vatican Council in a mighty effort to renew the Church, and to make it relevant to the Modern World. The Council did many good things. But today it is business as usual in the Church, and we are lukewarm and indifferent as ever. We have no personal love for Jesus or our poor neighbour. We are not a sharing and caring community. That is our tragedy.
The Catholic Mass is Jesus Christ, His death and Resurrection. It was with passionate desire that He gave us the Mass. The disciples of Emmaus were on fire when Jesus broke bread and explained the Scriptures. Our hearts don’t burn. Mass for us is a religious ceremony, not a loving experience with Jesus.
It is very difficult to find a Catholic priest or layman with a burning love for Jesus. If we loved Jesus, His Gospels should have been at our finger tips. But no, we Catholics are known not for our knowledge, but ignorance of the Gospels.
Several Catholics leave the Church to join the Bible Sects. When they enter the new sect, they bear witness, and it goes something like this: ‘I have been a Catholic for 40 years, only today, I met Jesus Christ Exaggeration may be, but there is truth in that statement. Catholic Charismatics too make the same accusation against their fellow Catholics.
The other major failure of Catholics is that we do very little for the poor and the afflicted. I think Jesus would accuse the Catholics: I was hungry, you did not give me to eat. I was sick and in prison, you did not come to see Me’. The world knows the Church best for its organization, Hierarchy, its ostentation in feasts and processions, its wealth, its stand on Birth Control its vestments and titles and child abuse by a few priests. Jesus expected the world to be impressed by the Church for its love of man. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. This is what the world saw and said of the Early Christians: ‘See how they love one another’. It was not to the Pope or a Bishop that the world awarded the Nobel Prize but to Mother Teresa, for her love for the poor, though she ardently loved Christ.
Today, the Church has plenty of activities — Tradition, Latin Mass& New Mass, Ecumenism, hundreds of devotions, feasts and processions, novenas and seminars. It has little time and money for the poor. The charity of an ordinary Catholic is a contribution of a few rupees to the Sunday Mass Collection, giving of a few coins to the beggars who come to their doorstep, and almsgiving at a funeral for friends and relatives.
Most Catholic Priests and activists don’t even go and see the poor Parishioners in their homes. They don’t know how the poor live or whether they eat or starve. How can the Church love its people if it does not go and see them. Thousands of Catholics and priests spend much time and money to go to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, but they don’t spend five minutes to walk to the shanties in their neighbourhood to worship the living Christ in the poor.
The charity of the Church and Catholics for the poor must increase by a hundredfold. Charity for the poor is part and parcel of Eucharistic Life, and must receive the same priority as Mass and Sacraments. Not only Confession, charity also covers a multitude of sins. Work for the poor must form an essential and major part of a Catholic Priest’s life. Priests and laymen must be taught that failure to feed the hungry is as grievous a sin as willfully - missing Sunday Mass. We must go out and seek the hungry and not wait till the hungry come to our doorstep.
The Church must allocate fifty per cent of its annual income and donations for work for the poor. Expenditure on decorations for feasts and processions must be reduced to the minimum. Bishops, Priests and Religious must visit the houses of the poor in their neighbourhoods. Parish Priests must on two days a week do nothing else but visit and care for the poor. The Church should establish a mother Teresa’s Convent in every parish to teach us how to love and care for the poor.
We must learn a lesson from our Buddhist brethren at Wesak time, and have a Dan Sela one day a month in every Parish Church, where any hungry man can have one meal a day. Occasionally, Bishops and Priests must in their residences share their lunch with a few poor people. Better still, if the Bishops and Priests share the poor man’s lunch in his own home, even if it means rice and pol sambol only. (The writer once went to a poor family to share their lunch; he received plain water which is the only thing they had).
When Bishops and Priests first set the example, it will be easy for the Church to request the laity to voluntarily spend ten percent of their monthly income on the poor, and visit poor homes as an essential part of normal Catholic life.
I do not depreciate what the Church already does for the poor. But much more is required. What I have suggested may appear drastic. If only half the Catholics follow them, the Church will be different and the world will be different. My suggestions are not as drastic as what Jesus demanded:
‘Sell everything you have,
give to the poor.
Come, follow Me’
Courtesy - Sunday Island By Stanislaus Perera