SG50 MASS – 04 July 2015
SCRIPTURE READINGS: Isaiah 42:5-7, 10-12; Ps 67; Gal 5:13-18, 22-25; Jn 15:4-5, 9-12, 16-17
Fifty years is a long time in a person’s life, although short when compared to the history of civilization! The Catholic Church is more than 2000 years old! So, what was Singapore like 50 years ago? We were like the Israelites living in exile without much hope. Like those in the desert, we were without any natural resources other than our people. Nobody thought we could survive as a nation, especially when we separated from Malaysia. We were just a tiny red dot (as they called us) but we are of the chilli padi stalk! Today, we can raise our voices high and sing for joy.
Indeed, today, the reason for our rejoicing is because the Singapore pledge promulgated by our founding fathers has been realized. Starting from scratch, just like the Israelites who returned to Israel from exile, we have rebuilt the city to become the Singapore of today – a nation to be reckoned with. We have earned our place in the world. Singapore is highly respected and admired by many world leaders and countries for our airport, seaport, business environment, finance, infrastructure, efficiency, orderliness, security, peace, social harmony and interconnectivity. In a nutshell, everyone knows that Singapore is a “fine” city! In fact, it is also called a miraculous city!
Even the Catholic Church in Singapore has grown more vibrant over the last 50 years. We have about 360,000 Catholics in Singapore, including migrants. Our Catholics are more mature, informed and discerning in their faith. More Catholics, including professionals, civil servants and those in business are offering their services to spread the Good News. They are more conscious that they are co-responsible for the mission of the Church. Indeed, during these past 50 years, the Church has contributed much to the development of the nation, especially in the areas of education and social service.
If we have arrived at where we are today, it is truly by the grace of God, but not without our cooperation. Our leaders have put in place the right foundation for nation building. These are the four pillars of self-sacrifice, justice and equality, economic development and morality.
Self-sacrifice of our forefathers is the first pillar of growth. God has blessed us with great political, economic and religious leaders to build the country, using their charisms. Like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear fruit; the success we enjoy today, is not without the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers. They accomplished much for the country because they did their best to walk by the Spirit. They did not allow democracy and freedom to degenerate into lawlessness and licentiousness, as warned by St Paul. “My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love.” Indeed, our leaders, with all their imperfections and failures, did their best for the nation. They put country before self, nation before ambition, the good of the people before their own. They were careful not to fall into self-indulgence but lived for others – not only for the people in their time but for future generations of Singaporeans. This is the true Spirit of Christ.
The second pillar of nation building is justice and equality. We have established an independent, transparent and efficient judiciary to promote justice for our people without fear or favour. Every citizen can have recourse to justice, regardless of his status and position. Without justice, there can be no peace or unity. But our justice is also tampered with compassion in the way we deal with offenders. At the same time, whilst this country is based on meritocracy, the government has always been aware of the need for us to be a gracious society, by looking after the poor, the weak and marginalized.
The third pillar of nation building is economic development and trade. This ensures sustenance and well-being of her citizens. It paves the way for the development of services and infrastructure – e.g. universities, schools, hospitals, transport system, finance etc.
However, society would fall into decadence without moral development, even with justice, equality and economic growth. Without the right moral values, our people become self-centered, materialistic, and individualistic, resulting in fragmentation, unhealthy competition and division. The strength of a nation ultimately depends on the morality and integrity of our leaders and people. Without morality, all that we build on will be destroyed by greed, dishonesty, corruption and selfishness. History has shown that powerful nations collapsed because of moral decadence. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew recognized this importance and strived for integrity, honesty and discipline in his own life and in his government.
In this respect, religions have an important contribution in Nation-building by ensuring that economic progress does not destroy the morality of our people. Religions help the State by promoting universal values of peace, justice, compassion, mutual respect, freedom and unity. They cannot and must not take over the functions of the State in governance. But they have a duty to advise and collaborate with the government in the promotion of justice and peace. Indeed, we are grateful that we have a secular but not a secularized government. This government recognizes the important role that religions play a part in nation-building. We are partners.
The true progress of a nation, therefore, is marked by an integral development, not just economic and technological but most of all human, moral and spiritual development. Economic and technological advancements must therefore go hand-in-hand with human development. In fact, the Church is concerned primarily with human, moral and spiritual development. Economic development is the purview of the government. The Church’s duty is to render advice on the moral dimensions of economic and political policies for the good of the country.
But where is morality found? Whilst it is important to inculcate moral values, the more fundamental question is, what are these values that are important for society? Is truth based on individual preference or even consensus, or based on some absolute values? If truth were dependent on the individual’s preference as to what moral relativism wants us to believe, then no one will ever be able to know the truth. Without knowing what truth is, we cannot know the meaning of life. We have no reference point to establish any common values as there is no objectivity in truth. How can we ever achieve unity when it is not based on truth? Any unity is a superficial unity which is always fragile and will last the test of time.
Indeed, economic success alone cannot bring happiness. Man is more than an animal and cannot be content with just material needs. He also has spiritual needs to be fulfilled, because he has a mind and heart which we call his soul. Hence, affluent societies encourage arts and aesthetics because they are partial answers to the hunger of the soul. Man needs meaning to be happy. He needs to know his origin, identity, purpose in life and destiny. These answers can only be found in God who is truth and love. In discovering the truth, man can live his life meaningfully with purpose. When he begins to live for God and his fellowmen, in humble love and service, only then does he find the fullness of life.
The Church, being missionary in nature, is therefore called to be the light to the nations, just as our forefathers had been for us. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Like the Israelites, we are not chosen for ourselves. The world does not belong only to us but to humanity, the family of God. We are only stewards of God’s blessings. God has blessed us so that we can bless others with what He has given to us. The sign of a gracious society and developed Nation is one that cares for others, especially the suffering and less fortunate. As such, our peoples must be taught to assume a greater role in the world in making it a better place for all to live in.
In a more specific way, we, as Church, must undertake the New Evangelization in helping society to be formed in virtues, in truth and love. The Christian message must permeate every area of human life, be it in the media, culture, economy, education, technology, politics or business. We must contribute by ensuring that economic and technological advancements do not, in the long run, destroy the moral fabric of society, especially in the universal values of justice, charity, generosity, selfless service and integrity. The Church seeks to foster the culture of life, from its very conception till death. We must strengthen the institution of marriage and family life because it is the bedrock of society. We must inculcate the right values which are rooted in the Gospel in our people, especially the young. We must also actively promote ecumenism, dialogue with other religions and foster unity at every level of society by practicing acceptance, tolerance, inclusivity and compassion.
Yet the proclamation of the Good News cannot happen unless we are transformed by Christ Himself who is Truth and Love in person. We cannot announce the Gospel adequately without first being filled with the love and joy of Christ. Hence, the starting point of mission must always be a personal experience of the love and mercy of God in Christ. Without this fundamental experience, we will lack the joy of sharing the Good News with others because we cannot share what we do not have. The passion for mission always begins with the inexpressible joy in us, a joy that comes from encountering love and life in Christ. When mission is rooted in the joy that is within in us, it will not end up as an ideology or an ambition to proselytise but a sharing of the Good News.
So let us renew this joy in us as Jesus said, “Remain in my love.” We need to pray and reflect on His Word daily, contemplating on His love and mercy. By living and sharing in His life of love and joy, we too are enriched and empowered. Indeed, when our joy is shared with others, it becomes a double joy. Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” In truth, we receive much more in giving. When we make others happy, we are even happier! This joy no one can take away! Kingdom building is therefore Nation Building. Walking in the Spirit, the Church truly becomes a light to the world and a sign and sacrament of unity and love for the whole human race.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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