“He who would lead a Christlike life is he who is perfectly and absolutely himself.”
Absurdity as Revelation
Unto us, the Lord gave him; the Lord hath taken him away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Fr. Michael Rodrigo is one of the most misunderstood missionaries in our time both by his foes and friends alike. But this is not a lamentable predicament, if one has the penetrating eye of deep faith. Christian faith shatters, dissolves and destroys mercilessly our cherished conventional ideas about what it is to serve and what it is to be effective and efficient. Faith destroys in order to build up. Faith is the perennial challenger and the permanent builder.
Had he not decided to go to that God-forsaken remote corner in Uwa-Wellassa, would he have trained more and better priests, educated more people, lived longer in relative ease and comfort, received more awards, rewards and praises, perhaps studied further more and continue to teach at universities?
We cannot know for certain. Life is not necessarily a matter of worldly accomplishments. In the first place, why did he have to accomplish all those things? For whose glory, for whose edification and for whose fulfilment? What will they prove in the end?
Are worldly accomplishments not monuments to our interior emptiness, to our lived despair, to our bottomless hollowness? A man like Fr. Mike with his rich interior life need not impress the world or follow the worldly standards at all.
The rich complexity of his life may not be able to be grasped adequately by using our pre-existing cultural norms. The deeper we reflect on his life, the greater the layers and layers of meaning can we unearth and ponder upon ceaselessly.
Apparently he wasted his precious life in a God-forsaken remote village. But this is the greatest paradox of life; that is, life that is wasted on others’ behalf is the most precious life. Life most wasted is the most wanted and most appreciated. Life which is not wasted on behalf of others is lost. What is wasted for the sake of love, what looks like an absurdity and utterly meaningless, is absorbed into the resurrection of Christ and is made perpetually meaningful. Nothing short of love is the solution to all our maladies. But only a few could see it through the eye of the leap of faith.
Christian life and vocation is not a project we plan neatly but something given to us, something hurled at us, a challenge thrown at us. There is no guarantee or assurance of success when one lives a life of faith. Faith itself is the guarantee and assurance, nothing else.
Fr. Mike became what he truly and deeply was, not someone else. He was not another Francis of Assisi, another Eugene de Mazenod, another Oscar Romero, another Joseph Vaz or another Anthony de Padua. He was uniquely and distinctively Michael Rodrigo.
A Courageous Man of Faith
A man of faith is a solitary man, a courageous man, an individuated man. He was solitary but not isolated. Human solitariness is God’s active presence. Courageous men and women stand out of the herd, out of the crowd, in order to serve the herd and the crowd. The solitary man of faith is never lonely. The living God is there to keep company with him. Alone but forlone. That fathomless solitude truly made him wise, vulnerable and deeply profound and only God could fill that void. He responded to social reality individually as well as communally but not individualistically. His mission team was a trinity, a tri-unity, a uni-trinity (Fr. Mike himself, Sr. Milburga and Sr. Benedict). The foundation of his community was trinitarian. Real community is a collection of mature individuals.
Our interior struggles and ups and downs restore in us a bleeding heart. But there is deep-seated joy, true consolation and deep pleasure in that profuse bleeding. No betrayal or frustration can take away that deep-seated joy that the world cannot give. What the world offers us is bottomless emptiness. It is a dead-end. There has to be another fountain, another cistern for deep fulfillment which must be so vast, so immense and so gigantic. Fr. Mike was deeply in touch with such a source, such an endlessly flowing fountain. A real fountain can never run dry. As a result of his union and communion with God, he risked everything in life.
From worldly standards, his life appears to be useless, meaningless, wasted, lost and could have been put to better use. It is because the eye of faith, the sight of faith has not been cultivated by the world. Fr. Mike lived by the leap of faith, which cannot easily be grasped by the pragmatically-oriented world. The leap of faith which is taken out of faith is the ultimate reason; it is not anti-reason, but above reason. Faith leads us beyond faith. It transcends reason and purifies and ennobles our pragmatic concerns and fixed standards about what it is to be a successful person.
His whole mode of missionary existence transcends the pragmatic mode of calculation and consumeristic existence. Sophisticated consumers are the emptiest people deep within. They have already shipwrecked their lives by doing nothing significant but by consuming and consuming obscenely and greedily. Consumerism is never getting enough of what we do not really want. Buying what we do not need can never satisfy us, so we keep on buying till our death. A happy life is that which is materially and financially contented. To spend less and less is to be happy more and more. The good life is that which consumes less and less.
His unique and singular dignity and purposefulness of life comes from emptying his whole life and consuming less for the fulfillment of other lives. He emptied himself so that other lives may be filled and fulfilled.
Abandonment to unfathomable divine mystery is the most courageous act in life. There is no tangible guarantee and yet one sacrifices one’s whole life very generously. One cannot live humanly and Christianly without personal sacrifices.
Catholicism and Humankind
Self-donation leads to universality. Universal love makes one a Catholic. Unconditional love makes one a universalist. The best of Catholicism is best for all people. What is best in every culture is also contained in Catholicism. Catholicism celebrates, nourishes and cherishes the best in humanity. Catholicism is full jubilation of human existence. It is endless and free distribution of divine love and grace. Catholicism is the celebration of all that is magnificent and magnanimous amongst human beings. The splendour of Catholicism is the festive joy of becoming fully and truly alive. Catholicism offers myriad possibilities for human liberation. Catholicism preserves and safeguards all truths against narrow ideologies and fanaticisms. People must not be fearful of it. To be afraid of Catholicism is to be afraid of oneself. Escape from Catholicism is escape from oneself. To be human is to be catholic. Catholicism is at the service of humanity. Fr. Mike was a great Catholic because he became a blessing to all those who crossed his path.
To be a Christian is to be misunderstood, despised, ridiculed, neglected, humiliated and laughed at even by one’s own family members. Christian message interrupts our cherished values and moral norms. When one becomes a true disciple of Christ, the whole world will hate that person because the mere presence of that person becomes a threat to human self-centeredness. One should have the courage, inner freedom and humility to pray for such people who ridicule Christians and ask for more and more ridicule, humiliation, laughter, negligence and despise. One has to be so free internally not to retaliate.
Holiness and Self-immolation
Fr. Mike lived Christianity. He was not just another Christian but another Christ. He was willing to make meaningful sacrifices and live a life of holiness; total, complete and personal assimilation of gospel values as a unique mode of life on behalf of the suffering masses in Buttala. He was committed to carrying the cross of Christ in a God-forsaken corner in Sri Lanka. The cross represents a challenge to the total person. It asks for a total involvement on behalf of suffering humanity. The poor were the direct beneficiaries of his holiness. Holiness is awareness; awareness of what is going on in and around oneself, that is, one’s life as a radiation of deepening awareness and its public luminosity that inflames the spark in our clod. We can only find true living by sacrificing, pouring out and immolating ourselves and burning our candles on behalf of others. Whatever is not burnt or immolated will be lost forever. This is one aspect of eternal darkness.
There is only one ultimate question to be asked; has Fr. Mike’s life (that is, his mission) been pleasing to God? Has God been pleased by his whole missionary conduct? That is all that matters in the end and the rest is prayer and hope.
To continue our prophetic mission as a teacher, communicator and protester with the hope of establishing freedom and transforming our world into a loving society based on liberation spirituality.