Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Leave those Popes alone!!

                Pope Francis has made a cakewalk into the hearts of even those who are not the least interested in papacy by his simplistic gestures and stances, so many think. The “goldlessness” of his pectoral cross, aversion to the bullet proof Pope Mobile, non-descript pair of shoes and apparels and all the more his exhortation to a life of simplicity made especially to the prelates have started a storm. Two posts on my FB newsfeed on this regard had been particularly pestering to me.

1) A snapshot of the humble pair of shoes the Pope was wearing. It drew questions regarding the validity of that gesture as the Pope was expected to wear the pair of red shoes symbolizing the blood of the Holy Martyrs. It even led to the larger question of who is bigger : Pope or Tradition? Convinced that the colour of the clerical vestments cannot be part of the Sacred Tradition (understood in the sense of Tradition and Scripture) I commented wondering what colour would have St.Peter, the first Pope sported. This tradition is functional and not dogmatic. So the ones waiting for the Pope to get loose on certain moral and dogmatic rulings that the Church has “vehemently” upheld ever will be thoroughly disappointed. There can be no dilutions in the essentials. Be ready for that. Later all those who heap praise on the Pope shall not swallow their own words and get choked by its sheer volume.

2) Of the many celebrations of the simplicity of Pope Francis many things are poised on the funnier side. A diptych showed St.Francis of Assisi taming the fierce wolf of Gubbio on the one hand and Pope Francis fondling a service dog on the other. It is quite apparent that there is a world of differences between the two situations. We are still overstretching.

With no prejudice to the simplicity and sanctity of the person of Pope Francis certain observations shall be made.

a) Simplicity may be the charism of Pope Francis and he will surely have a host of other virtues too, which shall not be delectable at times.  They shall not be overlooked.

b) In assuming that Pope Francis is simple, one shall not presume that no other Pontiffs were equally simple. Perhaps they failed to register an external gesture to show that they are simple. We cannot make a relative gradation and evaluation of the lives of Popes as much of their life is hidden from the public eye and is known only to God.

c) Cardinal Bergoglio was always involved in humanitarian activities and was noted for his exceptional preference for the poor. I am a bit wary about the media glare his past accomplishments receive now. It would amount to saying that all the great works he has done have become very appreciable now as he has become the Pope. Otherwise nobody is interested.

d)  When we celebrate the simplicity of Pope there can be many perspectives to it. Taking the clerical status of the Pope as our starting point there is a blunt allusion in it that the clerics are generally steeped in a life of luxury and impropriety. We are ill informed to make that comment even about a majority of the clerics. Taking the authoritative status of Pope as the starting point we are sending a signal to all centers of power to behave more humanely. Now there is a “third-party” situation: I-The Simple Pope or his equivalent- and the flamboyant/wicked/inhuman other and “I” elucidating the example of “Simple Pope” for the “Wicked Other” to emulate. That is just another way of passing the buck. You too are an oppressor as much as you are oppressed too. It is easy to celebrate somebody else’s virtue, especially if it is most endearing and difficult to cultivate, and it is even easier to celebrate the shortcomings of others.  Let us learn to say “mea maxim culpa.”

                Let us not allege the Pope of sanctity. He is holy inasmuch as he has responded to the Divine Will. He will be evermore strengthened to guide the Church through these difficult times. The Pope himself knows it better than anybody else as is reflected in his motto “miserando atque eligendo”(shown mercy and elected). He received greater mercy and grace from the Lord which he shall share with us all the more. And for our part we shall stop harping on the virtues of the Popes lest familiarity breeds contempt. Rest assured that human standards fail miserably when trying to assess the Pope or Petrine ministry.

ImagepART ii

Inter faeces et urinam nascimur omnes(all are born into the midst of faeces and urine), said St.Augustine of Hippo while he was still a Manichaean and was skeptical about the goodness of created world. He believed, like any other Manichaean that there exists a positive entity which is evil. Later the Scholastic philosophers would furnish the definition that evil is privatio boni(absence of goodness), which makes it a relative or negative entity. One may still contend that a negative entity is still an entity and has existence as such; even I am inclined to believe so. Hopefully these static definitions of good and evil are improved upon by contemporary dynamic theodicy, drawing largely from the theodicy of St.Irenaeus, which was hitherto run over by Augustinian theodicy. By theodicy (a term coined by Leibniz) we originally understand the philosophical attempt to justify God despite the innumerable arguments pitched against Him, the greatest of which is the so-called problem of evil. We speak of it as a problem to shift the onus on some external factor, even when evil is an operation towards which each of us contributes a lot. It is more truthful to call it a mystery rather than a problem. A mystery is something in which one is inextricably involved. It is in the setting of a mystery that one draws the essential life-force to describe oneself; when everything is clear, life comes to a standstill- there will be no differences of opinion or that diversity what makes the world livable. We would be like automata programmed to “receive” with no options for check-out (remember Hotel California, just before the guitar begins its final weep.)

            So was I literally in the midst of faeces and urine, not a very detestable experience. A goat’s excreta are, as I noted earlier, much enriched and not very distressing to the senses. As a matter of fact I have thought of and often sought an answer to the wonder that a goat’s dropping is showered down as a rain of globules. What contraption in its guts could be responsible for this natural work of art? Forgive my naivety. Somebody commented that God must be a civil engineer for having placed a fun park very next to a sewer. There are design constraints, but what about the economy of design which ensures that same organs are sourced from radically different reservoirs to serve even more radically different ends. It takes a real genius to contrive such a multiplex. There exists a “humiliatory system” in our loins which one may conveniently call the urino-genital and the gastro-intestinal system depending on one’s erudition.  What I know for sure is that the four-letter words in many Indian languages derive their striking power by their reference to a part in the loin in an obscene light. The loin is a juxtaposition of our call to perpetuity (by its signification of generative functions) and temporality (gastronomic and scatological concerns are sure indicators of our existential exigencies.) The goats were sheltered on a raised platform of areca planks with banisters around, something like a makeshift stage. A volleyball game was underway and we could hear the distress call of a goat from that distance and a brother was sent to see. He came back with a report that it was nothing but a case of “stage fright.”

            What really pertains to this discussion is the dirty underbelly of the goat pen. One could hardly stand erect under it. The only movements possible under it were either on all fours or some other exertions employing your legs alone if you had stronger calves, but be sure that sooner or later you would fall on all fours if not already so. Had it been just a cemented floor, one would not be too much concerned about “all fours” or “toe tips” or just any other configuration. It was there I pondered on the verity of that Augustinian maxim faced with the concreteness of the experience. The cemented floor underneath the pen was, yes you guessed it, bottom-line for that sea of urine with its innumerable floats and sunken junks of those aesthetically perfect ovine droppings and you are armed with a trimmed broom and a leaky dustpan to fill up an equally leaky bucket. Well, that is the only unaesthetic side of the whole setting. Developing a taste for routine is a vital part of almost all monastic traditions. Employing seemingly unrewarding exercises and adopting those ways by which the whole performance of an operation can sound cumbersome and irrational are efficient techniques in inculcating this value. Often I have wondered whether many conspicuous faults in the schemes of work are deliberately introduced or are made out of the naivety of the monks who proposed them. There ought to be some wisdom absconding in these practices.


Part I
What I loved most about Benyamin’s “Aadujeevitham”(translated as “Goatdays”) is not that it had a remarkable craft but it spoke of an experience which was very realistic but so distanced from our ordinary lives. Barring its cultural overtones in relation to contemporary Kerala and its amazingly large Diaspora what I could find easy in it to assimilate is the theme of condemnation to utter dejection from which there is a passover. It is the story of a man who could reconcile with the most traumatic phase of his life by following the path of meekness and resignation and at the same time reading signals of ever-throbbing life where it is most elusive. It tells us of a pace of life which is bound to land oneself in a gutter, according to popular reckoning; but in that pace one starts to count every whiff of one’s own breath and vehemently hug every moment of life with a glimmer of hope, even when the promise is nowhere. I had my goatdays too. I was under no compulsion in the exact sense to look after the goats, but it would not have been even remotely my call to care for even a living non-human, had I chosen some other ways which I chose to forfeit for the greater good. Ruminating, as a goat would do, I feel it so strongly that these goats were so close to my heart that their memories are stamped deeply in my heart and I always have a story or two about them to share with my confreres.
Well, I looked after them for not less than a month. At that time they were almost thirty three, and that was the highest number our goatherd had ever been. The herd had been a motley one. It had the very no descript run-of-the-mill goats one find in every homestead to the exotic breeds of Indian goats, that wouldn’t fit into an ordinary pocket for their sheer size, running cost and low returns. I wonder whether they are any better than trophies. Fast forward four years and you would find me perched on the terrace of this friary eyeing the tents of the circus in town, which happens to be our next door (they took that door away when they shifted and now it serves as a figure of speech). In the opening march-past they bring in an African breed of goat, which moves very disinterestedly and grudgingly that it has nothing else to do but make itself a show-piece. I have noticed that we are more moved to awe by the sight of exotic breeds of dogs and goats and cows or any other familiar animal for that sake, whose lowlier breeds we are accustomed to. Such a sight of superbreeds puts our ordinariness to shame, it seems. Rolling back, these supergoats can stand upto great heights to reach for a luscious branch if they crane their necks, standing on the hind legs, while the ordinary goats would tend to graze on the lowly grass. A goat is a real herbivore in the true sense of the word, no wonder why mutton makes a very healthy diet, by its phytochemical excellence.