The Vision and the Ideal
Fr. Founder had
Rev. Fr. Ephraim CR
The Vision and the Ideal Fr. Founder had
for the Rosarian Congregation
The official foundation of the Rosarian congregation took place on 2nd February 1928, more than three decades before the Vatican council II. Since then almost revolutionary changes have taken place in the world and in the church. What prompted Fr. Thomas to start this congregation? What was the ideal he had in mind? What means he advocated to realize that ideal? Are they of any relevance to day, to the needs of the church and of the world?
God Chooses the Weak
From his childhood to the end Fr. Thomas was a sickly person. In fact, more than once he was administered the anointing of the sick. After his ordination, as he was expected to live not more than five years, he was entrusted to the Rector of St. Patrick’s college, Jaffna with a special injunction to look after his health. He was put in charge of the boarders, especially the non-Christian students. All this was providential for his future mission for which God was preparing him. He had ample time for reading and study, and opportunity to come in to close contact with the non-Christian mind. He read at length about the history of the early church and reflected on the influence monasticism had for the growth and well being of the church in the west, and at the same time on the spiritual thirst of the Eastern mind which in spite of centuries of missionary labour the church could not appease; herself continuing to remain an alien and stranger to it. He felt the absence of the contemplative dimension (monastic life) in the life of the church in the East as a real draw back in her missionary apostolate there. Providentially, his confrere and friend Fr. Guyomar, the future bishop of Jaffna who was destined to be the co-founder of the Rosarians, fully shared his view.
A Missionary Congregation
Finally, it was Pope Pius XI known as the Pope of the missions, by his encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae occasioned the starting of the Rosarian congregation, by exhorting the bishops in mission lands to get started in their dioceses indigenous contemplative religious congregations. We may rightly say Fr. Thomas himself a son of the missionary congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate had in mind a missionary congregation of contemplatives, who advance the kingdom of God not by preaching or teaching but by an austere life of intense prayer and sacrifice and by their silent but efficacious witnessing to the Gospel values. This is all the more evident from the fact that he chose St. Therese of Lisieux as the special patroness of the congregation. He foresaw there would be those who wonder at the wisdom of such a venture, and chose as its motto, “we are fools for Christ’s sake”. Time has vindicated the correctness of Fr. Thomas’ understanding. More than three decades later, the world body of Bishops assembled at the Second Vatican council emphatically asserted in the decree on the missions, “The contemplative life belongs to the fullness of the church, and it must be established everywhere”. It means the contemplative life is not a mere appendix or just a luxury for the church, but an integral part of it, without which the church will be incomplete. Fr. Thomas was a prophet and a pioneer. Ever since Vatican II the official teaching of the church, has reiterated with more and more emphasis the teaching of Vatican II on the subject. Pope John Paul II Says in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “through my frequent contact with the non- Christians especially of the Eastern tradition, I am more and more convinced that the future of the missions depends on contemplation”. (R.M. 90).
An Integral Missionary Enterprise
The ideal Fr. Thomas had in mind cannot be limited to a life of prayer alone, though that would be the outstanding trait of it. He was aware of the multiple chaos prevailing in society, disorders in the spiritual, social and economic spheres, the tackling of which forms part of the mission of the church. By now, the church has officially acknowledged as integral part of her mission the advancement of justice and peace, human and economic development dialogue with non-Christians, non-believers, and inculturation. While experts and theoreticians debate and wrangle over the manner and limits of these enterprises Fr. Thomas has the simple, practical approach, “live it yourself”. We know how in his own limiting circumstances, he showed by his example how to pave way for peace and unity among diverse groups, to eradicate social distinctions based on caste, culture and the like, to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and his efforts at inculturation. Among the secondary aims of the congregation explicit mention is made of making all indigenous arts and sciences render homage to Christ and his holy Mother by making provision in our ashrams for indigenous music, architecture, literature and philosophy.
When we consider, this was written more than three decades before Vatican II, we can see how far-sighted Fr. Thomas was and how relevant his ideal has been proved in course of time. Again, what he advocates is not a blind imitation, but a balanced integration. “It is generally believed,” he wrote, “that the Western mind is discursive whereas the Eastern or oriental mind is intuitive. The Catholic Church armed with her faith makes use of everything human and good for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. She has made use of aristotelian ratiocination to deepen the Christian life of the West. She can make use of oriental contemplation to deepen the Christian life of the East. Western ratiocination if imbalanced leads to rationalism and existentialism. Eastern contemplation, if undisciplined leads to pessimistic apathy and passiveness. “The Church India” seminar held in Bangalore not long after Vat II strongly emphasized the ashram way of life as an indispensable need for the well being of the church in India. The Rosarian ideal if lived out fully could be an authentic response to this urgent need of the church. But sad to say, we seem more inclined to ape the western type life style assumed by the mostly Active congregations who themselves are now struggling (with how much success?) to extripate from the foreign garb sticking to them.
Marian Contemplative Life
Fr. Thomas did not have a blue print of the congregation he was asked to start. He received inspiration and guidance from above, manifested through the events in history. Atheistic materialism championed by totalitarian communism was playing havoc throughout entire nations undermining the very roots of the Christian faith. At the same time began the multiple and unprecedented intervention in history by the Mother of God, anxious to save her children from the impending disaster they were rushing head long to. All these helped Fr. Thomas to give concrete forms to the nebulous vision he originally had. Prayer especially the Holy Rosary, penance, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, all advocated by our Blessed Mother found a welcome entry into the vision of Fr. Founder. Perhaps, the wise and the learned would question the relevance of these, silly devotion in the post-Vatican church. But the supreme authority of the church has silenced these doubts by his apostolic letter “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary” adding five more mysteries to it, proclaiming at the same time a year of the Holy Rosary. Who will deny that Fr. Thomas was inspired by Heaven?
Simplicity the Hallmark of Rosarian Spirituality
Fr. Thomas wanted that the enemy be tackled at the very root. Satan is the strong man in the allegory of the Gospel. The weapons he wields are pride and its consequent unbelief which from our first parent till to-day is the cause of the ruin of many. In order to dethrone Satan and make Christ conquer, rule, and reign in us and in the world he wants us to tread the path of humility even in its highest degree and of utter trust in the unfailing Providence of our Heavenly Father. To inculcate these habits in us he has taught us some simple, practical formulas like “God is He who is, I am who am not” and “God knows it, He permits it, it is for my good”. The Rosarian spirituality is rooted on a few simple obvious truths of faith and reason. Fr. Thomas started the congregation with six young men of the working class, who were not highly educated. Infact he had in mind that even the less educated (that does not necessarily men unintelligent) should have a place in the congregation. One thing he insisted was that they be wholly prepared to die to the world and live for God alone. Even the idea of priesthood was a later addition to his vision; what he had in mind was men totally dedicated to the contemplative ideal. Later, when he realized the need of priests of its own in the congregation he stipulated that the choice of priesthood be left wholly to the authorities. Each candidate at the time of admission to postulancy had to give in writing that he had no choice with regard to the priesthood. Dedication to the contemplative ideal was the primary requirement. Did he foresee by instinct that men endowed with the ministerial priesthood with little or no taste for the contemplative ideal could spell ruin of a strictly contemplative institute.
Who Is like Unto God?
Fr. Thomas was a man enraptured by the very thought of God lost in the majesty and immensity of His greatness, saddened at the same time by the denial of God by ungrateful men. He wanted his children to be victims of reparation united with the Divine victim offered to the Heavenly Father in the daily Eucharist, their sacrificial offering of love and adoration to be continued throughout day and night by their uninterrupted presence with the same Divine victim present in their'midst on the altar, and that in the company of His Mother, the mother and refuge of all sinners, who having stood beneath the cross with her Divine Son as the supreme model of all victim souls, now continues Her mission as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate.
He emphasized silence and fraternal love as the two distinguishing marks of the Rosarians, qualities which will inevitably be developed once they wholeheartedly embark the Rosarian ideal, in its entirety; silence the fruit of continuous communion with the Divine Silence, and charity the outflow of a compassionate heart willing to share in the misery of suffering humanity.
If we could summarize in one sentence the vision Fr. Thomas had of the Rosarians, could it be: “A community of men dedicated to the mission of Christ now continued in the church, through a silent hidden life of love and reparation, being at, the same time by their entire life style an efficacious sign of the presence and growth of God’s kingdom of unity, love, peace and prosperity to the people around them”?
Rev. Fr. Ephraim CR