One United People
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we celebrate Singapore’s 53rd National Day. To celebrate National Day is to celebrate nation-building, which is the work and participation of every citizen. How often do we take our nation for granted, just as many of us take our family for granted, and Church as well! We fail to realize that the nation, our family and our Church are what they are today because countless individuals and communities, past and present, have poured their sweat, blood and tears into building these institutions. Without each individual’s contribution, big and small, from every area of life, expertise and interest, our nation would not be so prosperous, efficient, happy, peaceful and progressive.
As we celebrate National Day, we, as Catholics, together with the rest of the nation must recall our National Pledge, which is our shared dream for our people and nation. “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.” It is therefore appropriate for us to assess how faithful we have been as Catholics in helping to realize the dream of our nation. The dream spelt out in the National Pledge transcends race, language and religion. It is the dream of every human person that wherever he or she is, there will be unity, freedom, justice and equality so that all can make progress in life, find happiness and success.
Unity among peoples is what the Church seeks as well. As Church, we are called to be the “sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race.” (Cf Lumen Gentium, 1) In fact, the heart and essence of the mystery of the Church is communion. It is in building this communion of love that the Church appears as a “sacrament.” Of course, the building of communion begins with our communion with God. This is because “Communion is the fruit and demonstration of that love which springs from the heart of the Eternal Father and is poured out upon us through the Spirit which Jesus gives us (cf. Rom 5:5), to make us all ‘one heart and one soul’ (Acts 4:32).” (NMI, 42)
But communion is not just between an individual and God or even among Catholics or Christians. We are called to extend that unity to the whole nation. It is therefore imperative that Catholics work for a greater unity among all peoples. There are two particular areas that I would like to focus on with regard to fostering unity. Firstly, strengthening inter-religious dialogue and secondly, building a more equal society.
With respect to inter-religious dialogue, Catholics must be more involved in getting to know the religions of our brothers and sisters in our midst so that we can truly appreciate each other’s faith, for this is what the Church asks of us. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.” (Notra Aetate, 2)
As Church, we cannot be inward-looking and focus only on building our own community and our faith that we neglect to reach out to others who may not share our faith but share many common values in building a peaceful, loving, compassionate and harmonious society. Catholics must show themselves to be respectful of the faith of others and those without faith. In our task of promoting unity and love among peoples, we need to encourage what we have in common and see what draws us together. In many ways, we see religions in Singapore trying to be more inclusive and accommodating by not just respecting each other’s beliefs but also inviting each other to their social and even religious celebrations.
However, promoting harmony between and among religions is not enough. We also need to engage those without religious beliefs. We also need to bridge the gap between faith and reason between the secularists and the faith-believers. The present tension between religions and secularism is the result of a divorce between faith and reason, religion and science. There can be no genuine dialogue of cultures and religions when reason and faith are separated. Faith is not against reason. However, reason or science cannot be the ultimate answer to the riddles of life, ethics and morality. Not everything is to be believed only on empirical evidence alone. As Pope Benedict said, “Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.” (Speech at University of Regensburg, 2006)
So a society that claims neutrality by adopting a secularist approach is unwittingly favouring secularism. The only kind of secularism that can bring harmony is inclusivity, accepting both religions and secularism as part of nation-building without favoring either. To favour secularism over religions is to forget that Singapore is what it is today because religions had contributed much to the development of the country in terms of social services and education. Indeed, many of our country’s most prominent civic, corporate and thought leaders are products of a religious education system that has imbued its students with good moral and altruistic values. To subdue the influence of religions in society and public space would be to deny the good that religions have done and continue to do for the country.
More than just fostering love and charity among peoples of all races and religions, we should move beyond just social friendships to sharing religions’ answers “to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?” (Nostra Aetate, 1c) These are questions that we need to ask so that we can live life deeply, more meaningfully, holistically and purposefully. Otherwise, a prosperous and progressive country alone will not make the nation a happy people.
The other factor in building a harmonious and progressive society is to make our society more gracious, which includes the sharing of wealth and resources. Singapore boasts of a meritocratic society, which is of course not wrong. But it is not enough to build a society based on meritocracy alone because not all peoples have the same opportunities to compete with each other in life. There are many factors that are given, for example, health, finance, connections, intellectual capacity and opportunities. In truth, life is not all meritocracy. Everything happens because of grace – being born into a supportive family, having good teachers and mentors, etc is not the result of our hard work. Even securing a good job, finding good business partners or winning business contracts need good connections and timing! What we are and who we are today is largely due to grace and not just hard work alone. So, we are not always competing on equal footing even though it might be possible for some to reach the top by working hard alone. But the truth is that life is not fair in the sense that we are not all given the same amount of talents and resources. Indeed, whilst we applaud ourselves for being a meritocratic society, which means in-principle everyone can arrive at the top of the ladder, there are other factors that could put a person at a disadvantage.
Conscious of the inequality among peoples for whatever reasons, a gracious society must seek to bridge the income gap and the availability of resources between people in the higher income bracket and the lower income, so that no one is left behind in enjoying the fruits of the nation. Otherwise, when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it only breeds resentment and envy. It will divide the nation further. Those who are rich must never neglect the needs of the larger community. They have an equal responsibility to care for those who are less well-off. We are all stewards of the country’s resources and the building of the nation is the work of everyone. So, all of us, whether it is with regard to wealth or resources, must learn to share with everyone so that none will be too rich and none will be too poor! St Paul wrote, “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” (2 Cor 9:13f)
Hence, we need to look into ways in which we can promote greater unity among our people. Unity is a key factor for any real progress of the nation. Progress cannot be defined as just technological advancement or raising standards of living but the integral development of the human person and a society that is gracious, caring, compassionate and inclusive. We must build a nation where our people live meaningful and purposeful lives, lives that are contributive to the growth of the nation, lives that are fulfilling beyond the material plane but also on the level of spiritual, affective and aesthetic needs. This is what nation-building is all about. This is how we make the National Pledge our commitment.
Devotedly in Christ,
Archbishop William Goh