Few personal experiences that I had during my traveling, prompted me to write this post. The title of this post is a common slogan found approximately in all the buses in Sri Lanka. Two seats are reserved for the clergy of all religious denominations, considering it to be a right of the Clergy. Okay, now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the transport systems in a blog that should be talking about theology. True enough, but what disturbed me was not the fact that people were not willing to give the seat for the Non-Buddhist clergy, but the failure of our own Christian people to understand the difference/similarity of the Catholic Clergy and Religious.
To give a clearer picture, let me explain what I witnessed. Some of my colleagues, who are Religious traveled in the bus after classes. During the evening hours, the buses are crowded, so getting a seat is almost like finding for water in the desert. But you would think that it’s a piece of cake for the Religious right? Well sadly, NO! I was quite disappointed of the attitude of the people towards the Nuns after my first experience of this scenario. The bus conductor either had to ask someone to offer a seat or if the conductor was a Christian, he prefers not to speak up and instead does a better favour by not taking the ticket money from the Religious.
Before proceeding further, for those who are not aware of the different meanings of the terms Clergy and Religious, the simplest definition I can provide is, the former refers to the Priests and the latter refers to the Nuns, Brothers, Monks, etc; In the Sri Lankan context, it is easier for a Priest to get a seat compared to a Nun. But why so? And no, the answer is not because the society is still patriarchal. When it comes to Buddhism, there’s no differentiation! Patriarchal or Matriarchal, female Buddhist monks are considered to have the same rights as the male Buddhist monks. I personally think, this is the problem of our perception. For years, we have been considering the priests to be of a higher pedestal compared to the nuns. Hence our first priority is always towards the clergy. But what is the difference between the two? Why is one considered to be of a higher rank than the other?
I used to be one among the many who thought that, clergy ought to receive a higher priority than religious, till I followed the module Consecrated Life and Theology of the Laity. In reality, there’s no difference between the vocations of the clergy and religious. Both are called by the same, One God and they lead a Consecrated Life. And if there were to be any differentiation, then I think the Nuns would beat the Priests to it. This is because only Nuns get an opportunity to be “Sponsa Christi – Bride of Christ“. They get a chance to sign their consent, at the altar. Both Clergy and Religious fall into the category of Consecrated Life. Together, they bring out different colours and flavours of the Church and offer their services accordingly. The different forms and charisms of this way of life is well explained in Pope John Paul II‘s Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life).
So next time, if you travel by bus and happen to see a Nun who is standing, make sure that they get their right of sitting where they should sit. Because they will not fight for their rights due to their vows and humility, but as Laity, it is our duty to stand up for them and show the world that Priests and Nuns are equal. They differ only by their ministerial functions.