CHRISTMAS A CELEBRATION AND AN INVITATION TO PEACE
Cathedral of Good Shepherd, 29 December 2016
It is my great pleasure and privilege to welcome you all to this newly restored Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore. We thank you for so graciously accepting our invitation to join us for our annual Christmas gathering. Our presence here from different religions is a good sign that we are serious in promoting peace through mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s religions. It is important that religions do not view each other as a threat but a booster to their own religion as we have much to learn from each other; especially the eternal values and the culture of each religion. Knowing the beliefs, values and practices of other religions will help us to appreciate our own faith more deeply. In truth, we have more in common than what divides us. That is why this celebration is an attempt to increase the common space among the different religions.
Within this context, permit me to share with you the meaning of Christmas as celebrated by Christians. One of the most important themes of the Christmas celebration is that of peace. The Bible tells us that when Christ was born, the angel appeared to the shepherds, the outcasts of society and sang, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth to all with whom God is pleased.”
When we speak of peace, we always think immediately of peace between peoples, between nations, races, social classes and religions. For Christians, however, the foundation of peace begins with peace with God. From this peace is derived all other forms of peace. The Christian message is that when a man is not at peace with God or in union with the ultimate truth, he is divided in himself and this leads to division in society. Christ, for Christians, is the prince of peace, the one who has come to reconcile man with God and man within himself and with others. Christ, as God, reveals to us God’s love and mercy; and as man is identified with us in every way, in our sufferings, pain and aspirations. For this reason, we believe that our God is a merciful and compassionate God.
Accordingly, Christians seek to follow their master and Lord to be peacemakers. Jesus makes it clear, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Indeed, no one can call himself or herself a man of God if he or she is not a promoter of peace in the world.
But what is the way to peace? The way of the world is through conquest of our enemies through strength and manipulation. In Christ, we learn that peace is achieved not by conquering our enemies but by conquering enmity itself. Once, Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too lenient on his enemies. Someone said to him, “You are supposed to destroy our enemies.” Lincoln said, “Have I not destroyed them by making them friends?”
For Christians, Christ is the prince of peace because He did not seek to destroy His enemies but to win them over by love, forgiveness and compassion. He destroyed sin and animosity in Himself by winning victory over Himself, not over others. He did not allow anger or revenge to overcome Him when attacked by His enemies. Instead, He forgave them and made excuses for His enemies. “Father, forgive them for they know what they are doing!” The real victory is not victory over others but over self, namely, pride, greed, selfishness and falsehood. Enemies are destroyed with arms and might but enmity with dialogue and forgiveness.
The real cause of all conflicts is that the peoples in the world seek to wipe out their enemies. A Father of the Church, Tertullian, once remarked, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” So too, in spilling the blood of our enemies, we only sow seed for more enemies. We can never destroy our enemies by eliminating them, but by making them friends. Otherwise, we will cause more resentment and revenge later as seen in the history of humanity.
As religious leaders, we must set the example of leading the world to find peace not through war but through dialogue. Peace between nations begins with peace between religions. Peace is possible only through genuine dialogue when we seek to grow in mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s beliefs and practices. St Augustine says, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; but in all things charity.”
What is the basis for dialogue? Firstly, we have a common faith in God. Even though we do not profess the same concept of God, and have different ideas about God, yet we all in our own ways recognize the greater reality of life beyond ourselves. Some call it “God” and others call it by a different name. But we are all speaking about the Ultimate Reality or the Ultimate Truth of life. One thing for sure, we know that this Ultimate reality is love, peace, joy, goodness and mercy. We know that we come from somewhere and there is also something that continues after this life on earth. That we all seek the Transcendent is the basis for our commonality.
Secondly, we share a common humanity. Christians, in celebrating the birth of Christ, recognize that all of us are brothers and sisters regardless of race, language or religion because we come from the same God who is our Father. We all have the same aspirations, for love, joy, peace and unity. As brothers and sisters, we are called to practise charity, sensitivity and inclusivity in relating with each other. Fraternal love is the way to peace. Fraternity recognizes that we all belong to each other. Because we are related to one another, we must work for peace and treat each other with mutual respect. It also means treating each other fairly and justly. Peace is not pacification or submission to our oppressors. Peace implies justice for all, respect for the dignity of the human person and a fairer distribution of wealth and resources.
So we hope that through this Christmas celebration, we will be inspired to be peacemakers. It is not enough to speak about world peace unless we begin from where we are. We need to act here and now by promoting friendship among peoples of all religions. But let us remember that unlike war, which is made through planning, training and strategizing, peace is not made. Peace comes about through a sincere spontaneous response to love. Extending our hands to each other in friendship does not require any planning. When Muslims greet each other, they wish each other peace. Hindus are called to be in the incarnation of God to each other. Buddhism through meditation and enlightenment enables us to seek that inner peace within us. Taoism seeks peace through the balancing of the Yin and Yang. Christians seek peace through the promotion of justice and truth; and most of all through forgiveness.
Finally, when we find the conflicts in the world too overwhelming in spite of the attempts at fostering dialogue, then as men and women of God, we must surrender everything to God. It is our hope as Christians that in contemplating on Christ as the gift of God’s love in person we can be encouraged to continue to trust in God’s providence and not to give up the pursuit of peace too easily. So whilst we must work for peace, equally importantly, let us pray for peace within us, and in the world.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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