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HVK Archives: What's the church afraid of?

What's the church afraid of? - Mid-Day

M. V. Kamath ()
October 8, 1998

Title: What's the church afraid of?
Author: M. V. Kamath
Publication: Mid-Day
Date: October 8, 1998

WHAT the Vatican gays or does is strictly its own business and
calls for no comment from outsiders like me. But when the
Vatican's watchdog agency, the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, sends a letter to bishops around the world instructing
them to withdraw books written by Fr Anthony de Mello, SJ, I, a
Hindu, want to lodge my emphatic protest.

I don't want to argue what is true Christian Faith. That is for
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to decide. But I
am appalled to hear that according to the Vatican, Fr de Mello's
writings reflect a "distancing from the essential contents of the
Christian Faith" and deserve to be withdrawn from circulation.

I have been an admirer of Fr de Mello. I have read most of his
works. I have kept them by my bedside and have read them when I
needed solace. I never got to meet him. I had spoken to him over
the phone the day before he was to fly to New York. He then
promised to get in touch with me on his return. That was never to
happen. Soon after landing in New York he died. I attended his
melancholy funeral at Bandra. It is claimed that in his writings
he drew heavily from Zen Buddhism, Sufism and even Hinduism,
which to me is entirely irrelevant. What matters and should
matter - is whether Fr de Mello wrote sense. That he did. And he
touched me in the innermost recesses of my heart. I was, and am,
and shall always remain indebted to him.

To me, Fr de Mello embodied the essence of Christianity as I saw
it. The Vatican obviously sees it otherwise. I question its
judgement. According to the Jesuit community in Bombay quoted by
The Times of India, the Vatican's stand is "merely cautionary".
The explanation provided is that there is the likelihood of cult
growing around Fr de Mello's name, which the Church wants to
discourage. What is the Church afraid of? Fr de Mello's
eclecticism? Is the Christian Faith so fragile that it has to
pulp the Jesuit's writings?

It that is so, does not speak very highly of the Christian Faith.
Fr de Mello once wrote: have wandered freely in mystical
traditions that are not Christian and not religious and I have
been profoundly influenced by them. But he was quick to add: t
is to my Church, however, that I keep returning, for she is my
spiritual home." My concern is strictly with what he has written
and recorded. It is said that in his quest for liberation, Fr de
Mello often challenged organised religion and concepts like a
"fire and brimstone" hell. And what is wrong with that? Where is
hell? Somewhere in the bowels of the earth? Is that where we
sinners go after death? And where is heaven? Somewhere up in the
skies?

The late Krushchev once jokingly said that when Russian sputniks
wandered lonely in the sides, they came across no heaven either.
The concepts of hell and heaven are medieval and to think that
there are people who still believe in them only shows that in
some respects mankind has not progressed very much since the days
of Gallileo, whom the Church condemned because, poor chap, he
argued that the world was round and moved around the sun.

Fr de Mello is being condemned because, while demolishing popular
religiosity, he sometimes demolished established principles as
well - at least that is the explanation, and it is not at all
convincing.

Another excuse given for demonising Fr de Mello is that he was
enjoying "unrestricted freedom" which could be "a dangerous
thing". A dangerous thing? The only way to the ultimate truth is
unrestricted freedom. There is no other way. The Vatican is
behaving like the fundamentalist mullahs. It is pathetic and
frightening. One city priest is quoted as saying that the present
crackdown on Fr de Mello "is indicative of an increasingly bitter
struggle between the liberals and conservatives in the Vatican",
which is probably true.

I am not concerned with the internal struggles in the Vatican. My
worry is that one of the finest minds in India may be snuffed out
because the Church feels that Fr de Mello may be doing great harm
in his death.

Fr de Mello's books were originally published by a Christian
printing house. If the Church bans his books, I hope the
challenge will be accepted by non-Christian printing houses. It
is well to remember that Fr de Mello's first book Sadhna went
into 23 reprints in English alone while it was translated and
published in 43 other languages all over the world, which merely
shows the power of an idea. I am sure the Church notwithstanding,
the power of Fr de Mello's words will survive.

In Sadhna, the book that first shot Fr de Mello to fame, he
recounted a Chinese story of an old farmer who had a horse to
till his fields. One day the horse ran away but when his
neighbours came over to commiserate with him over his bad luck,
the farmer said: "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later
the horse miraculously returned from the hills bringing with it a
herd of wild horses. This time the neighbours came to
congratulate the farmer on his good luck. he had a standard
reply: "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's
son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off
its back and broke his leg. Once again, when his neighbours were
back with their words of sympathy, his refrain was: "Bad luck?
Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later, the King's army marched
into the farmer's village to conscript all able-bodied youth but
finding his son with the broken leg, let him off. Now was that
good luck or bad luck? Who can tell?

Recounting the story, Fr de Mello wrote: "Everything that seems
on the surface to be evil may be good in disguise. And
everything that seems good on the surface may really be an evil.
So we are wise when we leave it to God to decide what is good
luck and what is bad, and thank him that all things turn out for
good with those who love him. When we shall see something of that
marvellous mystical vision of Juliana of Norwich who uttered what
for me is the loveliest and most consoling sentence I have ever
read: 'And air thing shall be well; and thing shall be well; and
all manner of things shall be well"

Sleep in peace, Fr de Mello. All things will be well. The Church
that once condemned Gallileo lived to forgive him. It is not Fr
de Mello alone who can make mistakes. So can the Church. But, as
I said, it is none of my business to sit in judgement on the
Church. In the end, all things will and all manner of things
shall be well. Fr de Mello needs to be read not only directly,
but in between the lines. Take this bit of wisdom from One Minute
Wisdom:

Said a traveller to one of the disciples: have travelled a
great distance to listen to the Master but I find his words quite
ordinary.

on listen to his words. Listen to his message.

ow does one do that?

ake hold of a sentence that he says. Shake it well till all the
words drop off. What is left will set your heart on fire.

That is probably what the Vatican's watchdog should do. If, that
is, it has the courage and the wisdom has no religion.

(M. V. Kamath, veteran political commentator, takes on all
comers)


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