Sunday, December 23, 2007

Advent IV in Baroda

I haven’t really adjusted completely to Indian Standard Time on this trip (nor do I particularly want to. I’ll be heading back Stateside in a few days), so getting to the 8:00 am Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary wasn’t a problem.

Outside, there was a sea of cars and auto-rickshaws, and vendors selling a variety of Christmas trinkets. The church was quite full (and more than full by the time the homily rolled around), a sea of saris and chaniya cholis. Indians are nothing if not colorful. As I took a seat half-way down the nave of the modern (yet not completely tasteless) church, a group of the faithful was concluding a novena. The homily was given by a young seminarian (he wasn’t vested as a deacon, but I suspect they’re not too strict about that rule here) who spoke with a thick Gujarati accent. He alluded to the pivotal State Assembly election results that are being announced today -- the headline in today’s Gujarat Samachar was “parivartan ke punaravartan?” conversion, or repetition? – but applied this to our celebration of Advent. Do we focus on our conversion, or is this all just mindless repetition? I thought that was a good framework with which to approach Advent.

In the past I’ve tended to focus rather critically on some aspects of the celebration of the liturgy in India that I, from a very American perspective, find problematic. While I think those concerns are quite valid, they’ve tended to obscure the rich devotional life of the people in the Church in India. I’ve always noticed this, and been inspired by it, but haven’t remarked on it too much. There is the genuine reverence and piety of Indians (this is true for the followers of all religions. Indians are a pious people), the love for the Blessed Mother (rosaries and novenas proliferate; after Mass, there are always clusters praying around icons of the BVM), and in several places (in Baroda, though not so much in Bombay, which is a little more Westernized), the clergy celebrate Mass barefoot.

In many ways, it seems that the Catholic subculture that bolstered and supported the faith and whose loss and rapid disappearance after the Council is remarked upon so much in the West, never dissipated here. (See, for instance, William Portier’s thoughtful essay, “Here Come the Evangelical Catholics” in Communio 2004 [Description of article here], where he suggests that the main development in Catholic life in the US in the 20th century was the loss of the subculture and the integration of Catholicism into the voluntaristic nature of American religion in general, rather than the liberal or conservative theological and ecclesiological divides that are often invoked) As globalization and Westernization continue to make inroads into Indian society, I wonder how this Catholic subculture will adapt and respond.

At the end of Mass, various wedding banns are proclaimed, and then the liturgical schedule for the week is read out. There is midnight Mass tomorrow, and masses starting at 6:15 am on Christmas morning, in three languages: Gujarati, Malayalam and English. There is a special celebration and blessing of children on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28.

And, in a somber reminder that this is a Church that faces regular persecution, the incident in Kawant was mentioned. Apparently, one of the brothers lost three fingers of his right hand. A delegation is going to the Collector’s office this week to protest and petition for justice. There has been no coverage in the local press, as far as I am aware; such attacks are it seems, distressingly regular. Besides, the utter lack of concern for the welfare of minorities seems to have become a hallmark of Gujarati society. No one really gives a d—n.

On the way back, I drove through a sea of khaki near a branch of the University, one of the counting stations for the elections. Large crowds milled about, and the police were everywhere. On TV, the talking heads were blathering on about a landslide victory for the BJP and a third term as Chief Minister for Narendra Modi, whose star is clearly on the ascendancy.

And though he is quite obviously very popular, and no one seems to really care about his implication in the pogroms of 2002, or his autocratic ways (that is, actually, a plus in Indian politics), and though it is far from inconceivable that he might one day be Prime Minister of the country, somehow, no matter how improbable it seems, one takes comfort in the fact that this little, helpless infant whose birth we are celebrating (and indeed, the whole world is, even Hindu Gujarat), is, in the final analysis, the Lord of the world, the Ruler of all, who has conquered all principalities and powers, and whose flock has survived despots and tyrants, even democratically elected ones, and against whom “the gates of Hell shall not prevail.”

Maranatha. Come, Lord.

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