Today, the Church rejoices as we reach the climax of the Easter Season by celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. The cry of Pentecost is to renew the face of the earth. Having been given New Life in Christ, it is time now for the Church to share the Good News of Jesus the Risen Lord and the New Life that He is offering to all of humanity. Indeed, the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost is for the sake of the mission, to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News. (cf Mk 16:15)
What the world needs most is unity in the face of division and fundamentalism. With the current climate of moral relativism, individualism and materialism, it is more and more difficult to find unity among all peoples, especially when we are living in a world of globalization and mass communication. What is a blessing is also a potential divide because of the speed and the flood of information, so much so that no one knows what is right or wrong anymore. We are paralyzed by so many different views that we end up in relativism and confusion as to what is truth and love. The reality is that there can be no unity unless there is love. But there can be no love unless it is founded in truth. So where is the truth to be found?
Precisely, the Christian answer to true unity is the Holy Spirit who leads us to Jesus who is the fullness of truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (cf Jn 14:6 ) The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son. He is also the source of unity among all peoples. That is why the first gift of the Risen Lord is peace and forgiveness. And the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is unity among all peoples of different tongues. All gifts come from the one and same Holy Spirit. (Cf 1 Cor 12:4) So as Christians, we are called to build communion among all peoples because the Church is a Sacrament of Communion. Accordingly, the mission of the Church is communion. We are called to play an active role in fostering unity in the world but not just any superficial unity which the world is currently built on. Such unity is fragile and changing. Lasting unity and peace must be based on truth and authentic love.
How can we do this effectively in building unity and fostering peace in the world today?
Catholics first and foremost must reclaim their identity as Catholics and disciples of our Risen Lord. At Easter, we already renewed our baptismal promises to accept Christ and reject Satan and all the temptations of the world. At Pentecost, we are once again renewed in the Holy Spirit and now sent out to the world to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and to reconcile all peoples with each other by reconciling them to God.
This is what we meant when during the SG 50, we initiated our Catholics to join in the “Proud to be Catholic” movement in union with the rest of the Universal Church. But what are we proud of? Some have misunderstood this term, “proud” as the call to be superior to others, to disdain and despise those who are not Catholic or to be arrogant and haughty. This is far from what is intended. To be proud is to be grateful for our faith and our values and all that we stand for and live for.
So as Catholics, what should we be proud of? We are proud of our Lord Jesus Christ who is Saviour and our Good Shepherd. He has given up His life for us and showed us the way to peace and fullness of life in total self-giving in humility in service and forgiveness of our enemies. Most of all, we are grateful to Jesus who died and rose for us so that we know for certain that He is our Lord and savior. And because He has won victory over sin and death, we too live with a certain hope of our future, which is to share Christ’s glory and the resurrected life.
We are grateful for the Catholic Church that was established by the Lord, guaranteeing the Church to be free from doctrinal errors in matters of faith and morals. This is because He is with us until the end of time. (Mt 28:20) He is also with St Peter and His successors ensuring that the gates of the underworld will not overcome it. (cf Mt 16:18)
We are grateful for the Church as our teacher in truth and love. We thank the Lord for handing over His authority to our Holy Father and the bishops as authoritative teachers for the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (cf 1 Tim 3:15) Because of this gift of the Petrine ministry, the Church is united always with the Holy Father and the bishops. The foundation of unity in the Church rests on our unity with the Holy Spirit who guides and speaks through the Holy Father in the universal Church and the bishop in the local Church. Only in this way can we be a sacrament of communion for others.
We are grateful to the Church for the sacraments which prolong the presence of Jesus in our lives. He continues to journey with us in our pilgrimage of life from birth till death, whether in joy or sorrow, sickness or health through the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation and anointing of the sick. To help us to live out our vocations, the Church provides us the sacraments of matrimony and Holy Orders. Through these sacraments, we continue to be nurtured and empowered according to the different states of life we are in and our particular needs.
We are grateful for the rich spiritual tradition, whether ascetical, contemplative, mystical or charismatic elements in the Church. Most of all, we are grateful for the gift of the Eucharist, the summit of Catholic worship. Indeed, no Catholic is deprived of growth in spiritual life according to his temperament and inclination to the voice of God.
We are also grateful that the Church is a sacrament of charity in service to all of humanity, without discrimination of peoples, whether race, religion, culture or nationality. The Church serves all men and women simply because they too are children of God in our eyes. The Church has a special preferential option for the poor, especially those considered useless and a burden to society. She cares especially for the disabled, mentally challenged, the orphans, the elderly, the poor, the sick, the oppressed and the marginalized.
We are grateful to the Church for exercising a prophetic role in moral life, especially in the promotion of the culture of life and love. The Church remains staunchly opposed to all forms of killing, whether abortion, euthanasia, destruction of human embryos or death penalty. The Church maintains her position on the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. The Church is protective of marriages and the family. She strives to fend off infidelity in marriages because of a promiscuous lifestyle. But she too is compassionate to those who have failed marriages and continue to support them in their loneliness and pain.
The Church too is a champion of dialogue, especially inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism. She promotes mutual respect, tolerance, understanding and cooperation with those of other faiths, especially in in the areas of charity and shared values. When possible, the Church engages in doctrinal dialogues as well so as to increase understanding and appreciation of other faiths.
For all these and more, we are proud of the Catholic Church established and preserved by our Lord Jesus Christ. We are grateful to God for all that we are and all that we are doing. But it is not enough simply to be grateful! What is the use of just being proud! What is the use of having thunder and lightning without rain? If we are proud of our faith, then we must stand up for Jesus.
The corollary of being “Proud to be Catholic” is to “Stand up for Jesus.” If the call to be proud to be Singaporean means to stand up for Singapore, so too, is the call to stand up for Jesus if we are proud to be Catholic. We must make Jesus known and loved. The Good News, if it were truly good, cannot be kept under a blanket but must be seen by all and giving light to others. (vf Mt 5:15) So we must be ready to witness for Jesus. St Peter says, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pt 3:15)
This entails that as Catholics we must be ready to individually speak up and stand up for our faith and Catholic values. Today, many channels are possible; through the internet, Facebook, blogs, twitter, mass media and forums. We cannot afford to remain as spectators on the sidelines when our faith is challenged, denigrated and ridiculed. When it is misinterpreted and misrepresented, this is even more insidious, for a half truth is more dangerous than a lie. Remaining silent is also counter witnessing. That was what all the apostles did when Jesus was arrested. They all deserted Him and fled, like some of our Catholics in the face of opposition! (cf Mt 26:56b) Others looked from afar when Jesus was hanging on the cross, like Catholics who are observers when their faith is under siege (cf Mt 27:55). So to be proud to be Catholic means standing up for what we believe, as individuals and as Church.
The Church speaks on behalf of all Catholics. She is always engaged in conversation, consultation and respectful dialogue with officials from government, statutory and other religious bodies. She recognizes that this is a secular society and she has no right to impose her views on others. Nevertheless, she has not just a right but a duty to speak the truth and to articulate her concerns for society and her faithful. She does this through the preferred vehicle of dialogue rather than public statements, unless it is necessary to clarify confusion among the Catholic faithful, and always in the interests of unity and for their good. She chooses dialogue behind closed doors, rather play to the gallery as she believes in rendering respect for civil and political authority as the Lord asks of us. (cf Mk 12:17; 1 Pt 2:17; Rom 13:1) We also do not want to give opportunists the occasion to hijack our representations for their own hidden agenda. Hence, the Church has always spoken independently of other organizations. And indeed, the Church is always in dialogue with those concerned with respect to moral and social issues, whether it is about death penalty, legalizing of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, same sex union, protection of the environment, etc.
Consequently, being proud to be Catholic means that we should be even more patriotic as citizens. We must contribute more selflessly and generously in building up the country, economically, structurally and spiritually. As individual Catholics, we must be involved in our national conversation. Catholics, for the love of the country and the nation, must offer their life for public service, be it in the civil service, in NGOs or as volunteers. As Catholics, we have a social responsibility to our fellow Singaporeans. We must not shirk our responsibility in nation building.
But before we can do all these, we need to be formed in our faith.
This entails first and foremost, strengthening our spiritual and doctrinal faith. Many of us are nominal Catholics. We have very little knowledge of our faith, both with respect to prayer life and spiritual life. Our knowledge of the faith and the teachings of the Church are weak and superficial. Less than 10% of our congregation are actively involved in the service of the Church.. Even then, many are too work-oriented. They are more concerned with the ‘doing’, but hardly do they set aside time for spiritual, scriptural and doctrinal formation. They are too functional and not evangelical in outlook. Their last faith formation was when they completed RCIA, or when they were confirmed as youths. Without ongoing formation in the faith, they will be weak soldiers in the battlefield. As Jesus said, when the storm blows and because their faith is not founded on Jesus and the Word of God, their house will be destroyed (cf Mt 7:25).
Furthermore, many do not have a sense of building community, genuine fraternal love and support among themselves. Many members and Church organizations work in silo and not in alignment with the other organizations. They do not see themselves as one Church working for the glory of God and sharing a common vision. Our ordinary Catholics have little sense of community. They come to Church every Sunday as individuals without any real interaction with the rest of the community. Such faith in times of trials will not last because there is no fraternal support in their times of bereavement, sickness and difficulties. (cf Heb 10:25)
Without an ongoing formation in faith and strengthening the community bond, we will lose our faith eventually. This explains why many of our Catholics are also counter-witnesses. We are indeed very saddened when supposed Catholics speak against their own faith and the teachings of the gospel. It does not mean we cannot dissent in conscience, but it is certainly not proper to do it publicly, and certainly not with arrogance and pride! Jesus is clear that there is no neutrality in faith; either you are for Him or against Him. (Mt 12:30) Such Catholics do a great disservice to the Church because they are traitors who betray, deny and crucify our Lord again and again. We betray Him not just by our words but by our actions as well, by supporting those values that are contrary to the Church’s and gospel’s values. As the letter of St John says, they will destroy themselves and they are not one of us. (cf 1 Jn 2:19)
Of course, such nominal Catholics are not the only counter witnesses. It includes Church leaders, clerical, religious and lay who cause scandals now and then due to human pride, selfishness and sin. Many have lost faith in the Church, within and without because of sex scandals. But beyond such scandals, we have others like financial scandals and abuse of authority and power. Hence, we need to be exemplary in our conduct before we can speak with a strong prophetic voice. We have no authority to speak and teach the truth when we are doing the same things others are doing. (cf Rom 2:1) That is why we must first and foremost put our house in order. We must be united in truth and love and in service.
Finally, before we are too harsh with those who failed in Christian witnessing, let us be careful not to be too judgmental. In this jubilee year of mercy, we are reminded of the gospel of compassion and forgiveness. We are weak like the apostles who fled and then came back. There was no condemnation but forgiveness in Jesus. (cf Lk 15) To the adulterous woman, He said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go away, and from this moment sin no more.” (cf Jn 8:11) So we stand up for Jesus not to condemn others but to stand up for fullness of life and truth and for love.
In the final analysis, what is needed is, as Pope Francis asked of us, conversion of heart, from the Church’s hierarchy to each and every one of the faithful. Without conversion of heart, there cannot be integrity of faith and life. This conversion is not merely spiritual but also pastoral and missionary conversion. (cf Evangelii Gaudium No. 25-33) But no conversion of heart and mind, and of structures, can take place without prayer. Hence, today, let us follow the early Christians together with Mary at the Upper Room to constantly pray for the release of the Holy Spirit to renew the lives of our bishops, priests, religious and laity so that they can be released for service and mission to renew the face of the earth by being proud to be Catholic and standing up for Jesus and the gospel!
Archbishop William Goh