St. Joseph Vaz – The Servant of the Dissident God

Image Source: The Oxford Oratory

The canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz has brought in a wave of Joy that has swept the Church in Goa and Sri Lanka.  Goans are elated that one of their own has been raised to the highest order in the Church. The atmosphere is charged and there is spiritual bliss in the air. Several Priests and the lay people have congregated in Sri Lanka from Goa and different other parts of India, along with Cardinal Oswald Gracious, other Bishops, and Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao to join the solemn concelebrated mass of canonization with Pope Francis.  Goans in Goa and other places who could not attend the special ceremonies in Sri Lanka are one in spirit and mind with the celebrations in Sri Lanka. Even the Government has taken notice of the great celebrations and is going to release a special postage stamp in honour of the great son of Goa besides giving some financial aid for some deserving Goan Catholics to go on a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka.  Catholics in Goa will join our brethren in Sri Lanka with the tolling of all the Church bells in Goan on the 14thof this month at nine as the solemn thanksgiving Mass commences in Sri Lanka. The feast of St. Joseph Vaz will be solemnly celebrated in the sanctuary in Sancoale on sixteenth instant where the preparatory Novena is currently going on. The coming Sunday, the eighteenth instant , every Church and Chapel in Goa will have a special celebration in honour of St. Joseph Vaz , the Patron of our Archdiocese. 

As Goa soaks in the spiritual bliss and joy the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, the heroic life of St. Joseph Vaz invites them to imitate his way of following Jesus Christ and aim to reach the holiness that he attained. While one can draw many lessons from the laudable life and ministry of St. Joseph Vaz , I  wish to indicated how a dissident God became active in his life and ministry. We will certainly do not like the idea of a dissident God. God who disagrees with the order of things established as good, holy and progressive by humans is not a welcome God. But if we stop for a while and give a profound  thought  to the God in the Bible for that matter in most Scriptures of several religions, we will be amazed to find that God comes across as counter-cultural who shuns aside the politics of status quo as he takes the side of the poor, oppressed and the de-humanized. Jesus Christ manifested the loving, merciful and dissenting face of God. In Jesus, God disagreed with the established structures of the Jewish society and religion of his days. His dissensus led him to the death on the cross where he showed the final disagreement or dissent by rising from the dead. In Jesus, the dissident God becomes alive and active and interrogates every form of oppression, exploitation in our society. Jesus Christ become the ultimate dissensus of God in favour of the poor ( anawim).     

St. Joseph Vaz can also be seen as the servant of dissident God. His letter of bondage to mother Mary became the way he lend him selves to God who  is counter-cultural in favour of the poor. Through his ministry, we can see how God disagreed with the discriminatory ways of the Portuguese civil and Church authorities in the infancy of his priesthood when he became the co-founder of the oratorian order, the first indigenous religious society from Goa. Historians tell us that Goans were ordained priests but were never given higher position. They had to serve as assistants all their life for a long time. Moreover, the religious societies then operating in Goa also did not open their doors to priests of Goan origin to religious life. This led Fr. Pascoal Da Costa Jeremias to begin the oratorian life for the local priests. St. Josep Vaz later joined the oratory and became its superior and led it from the front. We might trace the dissident God taking the side of the Goan priests in and through the oratorians in Goa.  Paradoxically, the universal Church seemed to manifest the face of the dissident God as the pope consecrated and appointed Bishops as some of the Goan priests who reached Rome. Thus, we can trace the story of Mathew Castro from Divar and D. Custodio Pinho of Verna who become Bishops. But this triggered the Padroado-Propaganda conflict. The conflict was between ecclesiastical authorities owing allegiance to the Portuguese Crown that had special Papal privileges (Padroado) and those who aligned directly with Rome (Propaganda).  Again the dissident God rises up and disagrees with petty egocentric battles within the Church in the ministry of St. Joseph Vaz in Kanara. St. Joseph Vaz who had heard of the plight of the Catholics under the Calvinist heretics who had de-throned the Portuguese colonizers in Sri Lanka wished to go and serve his suffering brethren. The dissident God tests St. Joseph Vaz in the furnace of the internal conflict in the Church in Kanara and steadily led him to become the living manifestation of the dissident God in Sri Lanka.   The heroic  ministry in Sri Lanka with no support from the established Church as well as coloial power apparatus manifests that God was building a counter-culture though his work and ministry. His total dependence on God’s providence alone shows that dissident God disagreed with the colonization and it apparatus. God Took care of his people without the power apparatus of the colonizers and waged a silent war against colonization through the ministry of St. Joseph Vaz and the oratorians in Sri Lanka.  Therefore, the challenge before all of us as we celebrate the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz is to listen to the dissident God and serve him by working against the de-humanizing power structures in our day.  

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao