Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

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                     THE NAZRANI        "The Truth will make you free"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol. 20, No. 6           New Delhi                       June, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PLACID'S SEARCH FOR TRUTH

Fr Joseph Kureethara cmi 

 

Introduction

 

Jiddu Krishnamurthi, one of the most famous contemporary religious philosophers, wrote, “Truth is what you are. Truth is a living thing.”[1]  This was a shock to the existing dogmatists of the world. Strictly speaking, it was almost a 180 degree turn in the arena of philosophical circles. 

 

In the life and works of Fr. Placid, we can see a very impressing thing. What I meant is this, that, he truly lived and his life was truth itself. All his works were the expression of truth. As in the case of Krishnamurthi, he also considered truth as a living thing. In as many fields he engaged, such as ecclesiology, church history, liturgy etc., he was the proponent of truth. He never endorsed the concepts and views of others without critical evaluation. Through his life, he poured out the authentically unquestionable and worthily mentionable variety of traits of personality. His searches and researches were for practicality rather than for mere ideology. Here we see some pearls from the deep ocean of his truly lived life. 

 

2.1. Religious Experience: Basis of his relentless search

 

 

Fr. Placid was a man who led a religious life in its full meaning. Like his Master, he was on the side of the poor. Frankly speaking, he lived a life of simplicity and poverty. Evangelical counsels were not adornments: but were the path to perfection for him.

 

He was in European countries not less than quarter a century. In contrast to usual practices, he had the least luggage when he returned to the mother land. All his property was comprised in the form of some essential books, some medals blessed by the Holy Father and a type writer.[2] His poverty can be very well understood only in comparison with the worshipers of Mammon who adorn themselves with the materials collected from the west. No one could see anything in Fr. Placid that locked out him from the four walls of pure religious life.

 

He never flattered his superiors for personal benefits. He led an undiluted and sound religious life. He handled money only with the direct permission of his superiors even though he was such an eminent figure. Even at his death bed, when needed some money to give to the boy who nursed him, he sought the permission of his immediate superior.”[3]    

 

One of his heroic virtues was his Christian suffering. He was hit by a bicycle while he was in Rome. He came out of the hospital limping, with great difficulty. This condition endured till his death. He never blamed the rider of the bicycle. Instead, he was so humourous to say, “If I had been hit by a motor cycle, it would have given me more honour.”[4]

 

Fr. Placid was opposed by a section of the Syro-Malabar clergy who were either trained in Latin seminaries or were ignorant or ill-informed of Oriental traditions. But their opposition was naught and they vanished in the spleandour of his personality as a humble and poor monk, as an eminent scholar, as a devoted son of Catholic Church, as a priest loyal to the pope, and a gentle man with remarkable human qualities.[5]

In a nutshell, Fr. Placid’s truthfulness derived from his religious experience. It was a process of divinization which started in the image of God and was perfected in the likeness of God. Simplicity and humility were two other important features of his personality. Theses virtues gave him deep intuition from biblical truth, thus he could perfect the image given by God for his human development into the likeness of God.[6]

 

2.2. Less words, more deeds

 

 

Great men of the world were not of words but of deeds. As Pierce says, “Beliefs are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits.”[7]  Every word needs action. Marxian approach to truth was same in this respect. Karl Marx considered the ultimate and universal criterion for truth as the action deriving from it. Taking into account of all the oculists, we can see this specialty of the importance of deeds rather than words.

 

This does not mean that words are not necessary. Words are necessary and essential for every one. But greatness is weighed only by considering how one’s words go hand in hand with, one’s actions. Words and deeds must never be two parallel lines. 

 

Those who speak more, never get much opportunity to act. It is fitting to remember the proverb, ‘barking dogs do not bite.’Fr. Placid could do a lot to the Church as a whole and Indian Church in particular. His fields of activities never bound him to his mother church alone. He was fully given to the universal church. He has a peritus (expert) in the II Vatican Council, consulter to many bishops, professor of a number of great sons of the Church, member of the Pontifical Commission of the codification of Cannon Law of the Oriental Churches, consulter to the Holy see etc.

 

A philosopher is one who uses the known-facts to experimentation and then to the use of the people thereby universalizing the facts. This was true in the case of Fr. Placid also.

 

2.3. Word-actualized deeds.

 

 

Whatever greatmen speak, they try their best to fulfill it. Fr. Placid was no exception to this. He was an action-oriented man rather than an ideologist. The issues he raised in the memorandum submitted to Cardinal Tisserant were fulfilled one after another, after his arrival in Rome.

 

He felt that there was the need of a separate major seminary for the Syro-Malabarians, where genuine Oriental traditions are imparted. He made a request to this effect to the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the result was the St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary and the Paurasthya Vidya Peedam at Vadavathoor near Kottayam.”[8]      

 

Fr. Placid got a golden opportunity to act when pope John Paul I was elected to succeed Paul VI. The new pontiff had acquaintance with Fr. Placid when he was Bishop Albin Luciani of the diocese of Vittorio Veneto in North Italy. When this affectionate pastor was elected to the papacy, Fr. Placid was naturally overjoyed. He lost no time to submit a petition to the Holy Father bringing to his attention, the need of implementing the provisions of II Vatican Council for the pastoral care of the Oriental Rite Catholics dispersed in different parts of India. The Holy Father, whose pontificate lasted only for 33 days, appointed Archbishop Antony Padiyara to make a study of the situation and to report to him the findings for further actions.[9]  Erection of the eparchy of Kalyan was another partial fulfillment of his dream but Fr. Placid was not alive to see this auspicious decision. 

 

Another partial fulfillment was the raising of Syro-Malabar Church into a Major Archie-Episcopate in 1992.  In addition to all these, Fr. Placid played a vital role in the restoration of Syro-Malabar Liturgy, the extension of the boundaries of Syro-Malabar Church, the erection of mission dioceses for Syro-Malabarians outside Kerala etc.

 

2.4 Man for a cause

 

 

In a flash back to the history of mankind, we can see that only few persons lived for certain causes. These persons wrote history through their lives. Makers of history were always single personalities. The cause for which they lived was ultimate truth for them. They never had to compromise with the existing dogmas and practices. They were rebels in the eyes of authorities and these so called rebels were rebels in the eyes of authorities and these so called rebels were usually persecuted, tortured and even killed. They never closed their eyes towards the opposition they received from the ill-minded authorities or its agencies. The acid test for such persons is the test of time itself.  Billions and billions of people were born and lived in this world though centuries.  But only a few are still remembered. These living-but-died personalities contributed much to the social, cultural and moral uplift of the nations.       

 

One such great luminary was Fr. Placid. He lived for a cause: a cause which many dare not to take up: a cause which was to the integral development of St. Thomas Christians. It was his one and only aim in life. Whatever blows he got, no matter how others treated, he was alone in the battlefield. He fought steadily and earnestly for the truth.

 

What was wrong with Fr. Placid was that he was ahead of his times and had the courage to live up to his convictions: a mistake committed by all great personage, who have left their marks in history.  Fr. Placid’s case was no exception to this. What sustained him in the midst of all these trials was his deep prayer life and his messiahanic experience he received though the devout celebration of the daily Eucharist.[10]

 

2.5. ‘Being’, not ‘having’

 

 

One of the most famous existentialist religious thinkers of the present century, Gabriel Marcel, proposed the idea of “being and having”. In his view, there are two basic attitudes in humankind. That is, everyone is either a person of being or a person of having. Person of having finds every other as an object. He always looks for what all benefits he can receive from others.  Achievement is the motive factor in his every action. On the other hand, a person of being is one who shares, cares and gives himself completely.  He upholds the ideas of communion and fellowship. Fulfillment is the motivating factor in his life. 

 

Taking into account the life and principles of Fr. Placid, we can categorically affirm that he was a man of being. He was what he was. Or he was not what he had. His practice of religious life was never vertical to the ideal religious life. 

 

Marcel put his ideas in words. But Fr. Placid lived his ideas. Here comes the difference between theoretical philosophers and applied philosophers. Fr. Placid was a philosopher who lived not for philosophy’s sake, but used philosophy for life’s sake.  A challenging call to people of all time!

 

Conclusion

 

To conclude, it is true to say that, Fr. Placid’s unassuming power of living a life of authenticity is a model to all in this age of increasing complexity. As time and space changes, truth can be repositioned.  But ultimate and universal truth never moves a bit from its position. Fr. Placid lived quarter a century as a professor in India, quarter a century as a shining star in the Holy City, Rome, but nothing affected his life principles. He proved himself as someone of a rare breed.

 



[1] Ahalya Chari, “The Philosophy of J. Krishnamurthi,” The Hindu Magazine, January 1995, p.2

[2] J. Chirayil, Fr Placid-Oranusmaranam (Fr Placid – A Remembrance) (Mannanam: St. Joseph’s Press, 1987), p. 27.

[3] Ibid., p.28

[4] Dr Thomas Kalayil, “Profile of a Prophet” in Placidachan, Varghese Pathikulangara (Ed.) (Kottayam: Denha Services Publications, 1995), p. 351

[5] Ibid., p.354

[6] Dr Quriaqos Elijah Vadakketh CMI, “Ruhanutha of Fr Placid Podipara CMI,” in Placidachan, op. cit., p.321

[7] Charles Sanders Pierce, “How to make our ideas clear?” in The Popular Science Monthly XII, January 1878, p.286, cited in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (London: Fontana Books, 1963), p.426

[8] Dr Thomas Kalayil, op. cit., p.343

[9] Ibid., p. 339

[10] Antony Narithookil CMI, “Fr Plaicd J Podipara CMI,” Christian Orient VII, No. 1 (March-June, 1986): p.11.