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Modern mystics should bring joy to slums: Abp Menamparampil

By C.M. Paul
Abp Emeritus Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati
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Guwahati, Nov. 8.  It is the mission of modern mystics ''to bring joy to people in the streets, slums, hospital and prisons,'' says Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, who has spent decades whispering the good news to the soul of northeastern India.

The retired archbishop of Guwahati told some 450 heads of India's Catholic religious congregations that they are the modern mystics and their joy should reach ''those in pain, discouragement, despair'' and touch the sad, angry and revengeful people, besides victims of violence in the family, riots, sectarian violence.

The aged, the sick, the unborn, the atheist and others also want the mystics to share the good news with them, said the Salesian prelate on November 7 while addressing the opening of the plenary assembly of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), the national association of the major superiors in the country.

The November 6-9 assembly is marking the CRI golden jubilee.

Archbishop Menamparampil, chairperson of the Office of Evangelization of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, spoke on the theme, ''Mystics becoming prophets.''

The archbishop noted a sudden increase in people's interest in mysticism in modern times that has led to an upward trend in vocations to contemplative life.

Books of Meitster Eckart, Tauler, Suso and Teilhard de Chardin are found in airports and wayside bookshops, he said to buttress his point.

''Living in a society that seeks to marginalize profound and abiding values, people hunger for depth and search for insights into the ultimate destiny of humanity,'' the archbishop said.

In the context, then, of our times what the religious should ask themselves is how they may add the dimension depth to their lives, breathe a spirit into their commitments, relationships and services; how they may give unction to their words and thoughts; bring a spark of light to the uncertainties of the day; how they live out the mission that Jesus has given of becoming the light of the world and salt of the earth, the prelate said.

After explaining the mystic's pilgrimage and encounter with God, Archbishop Menamparampil said, ''There is the return to plain ordinary life. It is not a return to passivity, but to a sense of duty to be creative and fruitful. Thus the mystic becomes a fellow-laborer and partner with the rest of humanity in building up the world.''

The archbishop presented briefly the cosmic vision of Teilhard de Chardin who sought ''to harmonize religious beliefs with the most recent scientific discoveries. The spirituality the Jesuit mystic proposed was one of passionate involvement, a mysticism of action calculated to bring about transformation in the fields of science and development, the archbishop noted.

Teilhard saw human desire for progress itself as the dynamism propelling the world to its destiny. In this sense, human beings are co-creators, architects of their own destiny, and therefore active agents in the cosmic evolution.

Without ever meaning to abandon their traditional forms of ministry the mystics ought to enter into new levels of society; new social, cultural and psychological fields; into the world of ideas, attitudes and values; into causes like those for peace, defence of life, probity in society, protection of minorities, and good governance.

''As citizens in a democratic state, we have a national responsibility. In a globalized world, we have a global responsibility. As committed citizens we ought to cultivate this sense of universal responsibility in ourselves and foster it in others,'' he said he defined the ''prophetic role'' as inviting people to think and judge for themselves.

''That is what Jesus did. Compelled to think for themselves, people reflect deeply and change. Drawing forth an openness to change is the prophetic ministry,'' said the archbishop who insisted on thinking with the 'thinking element' in society, by which he means co-searching with those that provide a practical philosophy of life in a particular community.

In this era of tensions, he said, it has ''become a part of our work to heal the memories of historic wounds at the ethnic, cultural, national and even civilizational levels. So much of violence has resulted because we have not been successful in doing so. We are little aware of ''suppressed guilt-feeling'' which seeks justification in the latest ideologies or theologies, said the archbishop who has been engaged in reconciling warring ethnic groups in northeastern India.

The prelate has this suggestion for those working across cultures: ''Never hurt the selfhood of a community, never humiliate it.'' Respect its collective personhood. While offering services across cultures, what is most important is that one takes categories, concepts and images from the community one is serving. ''There is a pedagogy in communicating a message across cultures,'' he added.

He wants Church leaders to avoid ''legalistic, stereotyped, cold, and impersonal'' ways of dealing with people, especially when they become ''over-demanding of financial contributions.''

The goal of religious life, he added, is always to seek God intensely, combined with simplicity of life and a tradition of renunciation and asceticism, expressed in new forms and relevant ways.

The religious must witness to God's holiness and compassion and must remain a source of wisdom and inspiration, and moral authority in the contemporary world, he added.
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