Monday, 28 January 2008

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Have you ever perpetuated a misconception or even lived one? Remember how we were told never to eat two conjoined bananas because of the belief that eating them will result in giving birth to twins? It is a simple case of similarity mistaken for causality. It’s like playing with your uncle’s bald head will make you bald faster. We may call it plain and pure superstition but unwittingly or unknowingly, many of us do perpetuate misconceptions or even live them.

The calling of Andrew, Simon (otherwise known as Peter), James and John might be a good start or beginning to debunk some misconceptions.

In a sense, you can say that the calling of these four men was the start of Christianity. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Christianity was a religion born in Asia. But for many of us, Christianity seems to be a foreign religion; as foreign as a missionary La Salle Brother or Infant Jesus Sister imported from Ireland or France, for example. It doesn’t take much to arrive at this conclusion. Statistics may support the conclusion for of all the continents, the most populous is Asia and yet it is the least Christianised.

Still, it is a misconception which we must dispel with. Christianity is NOT alien to Asia. It is true that Christianity was able to use Greek philosophy in its self-explication but that does not diminish the fact that Christianity was and is an Asian religion because its roots are the Old Testament and therefore Semitic. Jews and Arabs may be Semitic but nonetheless Asians. In the beginning Christianity spread towards the East, towards Persia, India and China. In fact, if you like, near Karbala the city of Shite prominence, south-west of Baghdad, you should be able to find an ancient Church that pre-dates the dominant religion of Iraq today.

It is not surprising that because of this misconception that Christianity is a Western importation, we have been told not to use a certain word for God. In fact, I remember that we were told to stick to Latin. So, you imagine what a misconception can do? And, the worst thing is that there are Catholics who live this misconception because they tell me that it is wrong for another priest to call God by the name which we are not supposed to use.

Today, we are told that Jesus called the four. There is perhaps another misconception that we may labour under. We are used to thinking that calling equals vocation—vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The calling of these four might give us an excellent occasion to speak about answering the call to priesthood or religious life. But that is to restrict the call of Jesus, as if his calling were for “new” people. Like Christ is calling for new apostles.

But, we need to re-think about calling because there is a crisis here in Asia, whether we recognise it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is a crisis of recognition; a crisis which touch upon our Christian identity. If we accept Christianity to be an Asian religion, then it should find the soil of Asian hearts a fertile ground. It’s like having a home-ground advantage. Christians should have their task of evangelisation cut out for them. There should be more Christians in Asia since Asia is the home of Christianity and Christianity is at home in Asia.

But, there are not. Christians make up less than 3 per cent of Asia’s population.

So, the crisis we have is related to the majority of Asians not recognising the few Christians living amongst them. The call of the four is not so much Christ calling for “new” apostles as His call is a challenge to Christians living out to their utmost ability the charism of their baptism which according to the CCC the “common priesthood of the laity is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace—the life of faith, hope and charity, a life according to the Spirit”.

It is through this life of faith, hope and charity lived according to the Spirit that others recognise Christ. This is a challenge to which we must rise. But, the sad thing is we often excuse our failure by supplying the reason for the lack of conversion to Christianity on the venerability of the other religions—notably Buddhism and Hinduism. The usual response is: Buddhism and Hinduism are older and more established religions whereas Christianity is a Western importation and 3 per cent is testimony to 500 years of failure in evangelisation. We blame the crisis of recognition on the failure of evangelisation and on Christianity as a Western important. Then, we shoot ourselves in our foot because we think we’ve adopted a “western” way and thus we are less of an Asian.

The point is China could have been Christianised if Christians hadn’t fought amongst themselves. The Controversies of the Chinese Rite arose precisely because of Catholic infighting. It does give credence that our crisis is because Christ is not clearly visible in our lives. You may say we had Mother Teresa who is well-recognised in Asia. But, she was one of so few Christians. The fact is, we should discount Mother Teresa because she was truly a Western importation since she hailed from Albania. The presence of Mother Teresa is perhaps a great shame to us Asians who should be the first to show forth the light of Christ.

Let’s recognise our failure for what it is: the failure to live our profession visibly. Let us not blame it on Christianity as a Western importation. Otherwise, we would have perpetuated a misconception or worse, live the misconception. The First Reading is echoed in the Gospel. Land of Zebulun, Land of Napthali—the people that lived in darkness has seen a great light. We are so unremarkable that Asia does not see our light—the light of Christ. So, Gandhi was right to say, “I believe in Christ but I don’t believe in Christianity”. But, the blame is not on Christianity. The shame is upon us Asians. We have failed our home-grown Christ. We have failed to be Christ. We have dimmed his light.