Sunday, 30 August 2009

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing—a quote from Edmund Burke, a Irish statesman and philosopher. We can connect this quotation to our theme today: The commandments of life. How is it so?

Christ in the Gospel tells the Pharisees that they honour Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him. The context for Him saying that is the controversy over ritual cleanliness. The Pharisees are more concerned with the observance of Jewish ritual practices than with the purity of intentions or motives. In the first reading, Moses urges the people to be faithful to God’s law without addition or subtraction. The Israelites tend to add their particular traditions to the Law and over time these traditions will come to be regarded as equally authoritative and binding as God’s Law. Finally, the Letter of St James states that “Pure unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world”.

All the three readings have a general theme running through them: We ought to live in such a way that God’s commandments are not empty but instead are life-giving. This is where Edmund Burke’s quote may apply to us. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Let us break down the quote to analyse what it really means and how it may be applied to us.

First of all, to do nothing, that is, inertia could be a symptom of an age gone wrong. What it means is that we may have lost a sense of sin, characterised by a lack of reflexion or examination of conscience. Or we may just have a dead conscience. But, if we have not lost a sense of sin or our conscience, perhaps sin is perceived in a generalised sense that something is wrong and no more. It is out there and I am somehow unaffected. However, the fact is we have not totally lost our conscience because, in this age gone wrong, the yearly Petronas adverts actually reveal a collective yearning for a time when race and religion do not really matter. Sadly though, beyond our lamentation or our nostalgic yearning, we stop short.

Are there no more wrongdoings or is our sense of what is wrong no longer acute that we simply do not think that there are “rights” worth our standing up for or principles worth our embracing? We all know something is not right but what is truer is that we have collectively and individually become moral pygmies. A good example is corruption. We reason that everyone is doing it or why bother since nobody seems to be able to change the status quo.

Secondly, proof that we have become morally stunted may be corroborated by the increasing preoccupation with the “self”. Check out the number of weight-loss programmes available. You might think that the Pharisees were shallow and superficially concerned with ritual cleanliness but really, we too are preoccupied with the “cleanliness” of the body as evidenced by the focus on our “image”. We may not be too concerned with ritual or religious purity. Nevertheless, we are obsessed by how we look or smell to others. We are about projecting the perfect “image”. In this concern for the “perfect” image, we are also quite worried about the water we drink or the food we eat. In short, we are anxious about pollution.

But, evil is the worst kind of pollution. When St James says “Keep yourself uncontaminated from the world”, he is not referring to environmental pollution. Instead, he asks us to keep ourselves uncontaminated from the evil of the world. This task is not about barricading ourselves. We cannot run away or escape the world by building Christian ghettoes. Instead, the quote clearly indicates a way to go forward because good men or “good people” is clearly not a reference to “perfection” and neither is it about purity. Instead, it is about us... ordinary folks who have come to believe that we are so small that we are insignificant. On Wednesday, at the celebration of the thanksgiving Eucharist for Fr OC, at least 8 cars were broken into. Many of the car owners felt that nothing will change or that it was not worth the inconvenience of making a police report and felt that the best option was to get on with life. Many helpless parents look hopefully at Australia, New Zealand or Canada as our solution to this malaise called Malaysia.

I don’t blame you, but, in the meantime, evil is proliferating. I am not referring to the exorcism type of evil. Evil is as simple as when the heart is far from the lips—when our actions are different from our intentions or beliefs. Evil will proliferate not because “good men” keep quiet but because everyone keeps quiet. First, it is about receiving Holy Communion only to be spat out and photographed. Now it is about a cow’s head in front of a building. What will be next as most of us remain silent?

The readings speak about the commandments of life. What is life if we maintain silence in the face of evil men or women? I am not condemning any religion or criticising any government. Economic, social or political progress cannot be bought with silence for our silence could only mean we condone the actions of evil men or women. The commandments of life mean that we must not only be those who hear the word of God but we must also be doers of God’s word.

I am not pouring cold water onto those who choose to go to Singapore or Australia etc. I spent 5 years in Ireland and I had thoughts of settling there because they were also in need of priests plus I had relatives living there. But I chose to come back. The choice to come back does not make me more virtuous than those who choose to migrate. I made it with hope and trust. It is a choice that shows how important the sacraments are and the Church is. About 15 years ago when I was with Campus Ministry, I told the Catholic students that they should build networks. They cannot stand up to evil men and women alone. They will be overwhelmed or discouraged or worse, succumb to the forces of evil. Since these students will belong to the upper strata of the movers and shakers of society, they will be placed in positions of power to effect changes. Now, you will understand why the sacraments and Lifeline, BECs or prayer groups are important. In order to defeat evil men or women, the sacraments provide us with strength and the BEC or our prayer groups provide us with support. God gives us strength and our brothers and sisters give us courage. We will never be alone in standing up to evil men and women when we have God on one side and our brothers and sisters on the other side.