Friday, 31 August 2007

Celebrating Independence

Today we cross a milestone in celebrating 50 years of Independence. In the current climate we find ourselves in, there is a strong sense that the good old days were really the good old days. There is a palpable air of pessimism and cynicism that permeates our public life. So, as a faithful people gathered to worship God, let us take some time to think how our faith should mark the exercise of our citizenship. Hence the question: “What is it to be a faithful citizen”?

The question engages us all from many fronts. But, the first reading already gives us a clue in a certain direction. It demands that there should be no class distinction amongst us. This concern for an egalitarian or equitable society is distilled through the Church’s social teachings. If you like, in familiar terms, we call it social justice. In concrete terms, social justice is the mission to safeguard the dignity of the human person. This mission is very important because of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation has made the world smaller, a good or a bonum that has allowed us to enjoy easier access to supplies and services but it has also cast its shadow upon us. What has a faith that does justice have to say standing in the shadow of globalisation?

In the interconnectedness of globalised economies, education and human strength has become fodder or food that is needed to power the economies. In the first place, our children’s education is no longer dictated by what is good, true and beautiful. Instead, their education is tailored to feed into the needs of system. Therefore, we should be ever conscious of the need for the wholesome education of our young. And this wholesome education must include the important component of spiritual learning or spiritual formation. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew asked: “What then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?" is fair warning to us of the vacuity or emptiness of any learning that is devoid of the spirit. To be a faithful citizen is to fulfil the first precept of the National Principles — that is to make stronger our belief in God. Nothing can ever take the place of God in our endeavour to exercise faithful citizenship. In fact, those who fight for the poor and the disenfranchised are those who place God first in their life. We can never encounter justice without God. The communist tried to establish an equitable society based on the principles of equality, as envisaged by the first reading, but they ended in dismal failure. Why? Because God was never part of their equation. Therefore, in very concrete terms, what value do we place upon our children’s faith formation? Have we a space for God in our lives?

Secondly, another effect of globalisation has been the reduction of human strength to being just a component in the production of goods and services. Human dignity or humanity with all its complexities is minimised. A person matters only because he or she can generate or produce or contribute to the result of what we intend. I have in mind the thousands of migrant workers and also those of our fellow brothers and sisters who fall through the cracks created by a society of greed. Migrant workers power the construction boom in our country and yet our treatment of them often falls beneath the minimum required to pass off as humanly dignified. You might be wondering why we need to take care of the migrants amongst us. In a world of globalised economies, both our children’s education and the brute strength of the migrants are just commodities to be bought and sold. Is there anything more slavery than that? There may be a chasm that separates us from the stranger as it were, but in a society of slaves and master, no one is free. Those who think they are free, those who are educated as it were, are living in delusion. Therefore, good citizenship behoves upon us all to take care of those who are in the margin.

Brothers and sisters, 50 years is a milestone in our journey as a nation. Faithful citizenship calls us to remedy what is lacking in our children’s education—to give a greater emphasis to the moral and the spiritual dimensions of the quest for knowledge. Secondly, the stranger amongst us is often the Christ unrecognised. Their dignity is also ours—if they are demeaned, then we too are demeaned.

Thus, faithful citizenship requires that we participate in debates on matters affecting the common good. We either do that or we can shy away in cynicism and many have done so through emigration. But, when we engage in or participate in the questioning of public affairs we are actually upholding what is sacred to our country: the principles of democracy. In this respect, faithful citizenship calls every Catholic to actively give space for his faith to enter into the public sphere.

Concretely, it means that we must give space to knowing Christ first. And in the matter of education, our children must come to know Christ because it will be their duty in the future to bring Christ to a world waiting in great labour for a Saviour of the world and his Gospel to be made known to them.