Too many denied spoils of nation
FATHER MARTIN SIRJU Sunday, July 29 2012
The following address was delivered by Fr Martin Sirju at a Thanksgiving Mass commemorating the First Anniversary of the Siparia Youth Group on July 24.
I am deeply honoured and delighted to have the privilege of sharing some reflections with you this morning on the theme of nation-building as we anticipate the 50th anniversary of our Independence. If we measure our development against the newspaper headlines we will think we have not achieved much in 50 years.
Crime continues to be intractable, we will be running a deficit budget for the next four years, education of the poor is in sad state, cries for higher wages are not at all matched by levels of production, escalation in human trafficking, and there is a deep suspicion about the justice system which appears to address personal evil but not systemic evil.
But there are also good signs: we still have strong inter-religious and inter-racial relations; the economy is reasonably stable though not expanding, considering the collapse of international and local financial institutions; there is a growing concern over the environment; stronger demands for accountability; a virtual explosion in educational possibilities; an exponential rise in women as a professional class; we are writing more of our history; and we are part of a worldwide experiment in the workability of political coalitions.
And you, young people of the Police Youth Groups, how can I not mention what I think is your most daunting challenge: finding God in an immensely secular environment, where the pressure to conform to a North American image makes you someone other than you want to be.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Micah starts off with hope while quietly acknowledging areas of darkness: “With a shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture, the flock that is your heritage, living confined in a forest with meadow land all around.”
These opening lines my dear young people, are meant for you – you are reminded that the Lord is your Shepherd; he wants to lead you to pasture i.e. to peace, happiness, fulfillment. Why? Because you are his heritage. This is not only a Christian message but a universally theological one – we are all God’s heritage, God’s priceless property, His chosen ones. But there is a problem: we live, as Micah tells us ,“confined in a forest, with meadow land all around.”
This is where many of you are: there are many forces confining you to the forest — poverty, domestic problems, academic underperformance or failure, temptations to drugs and early sexual activity, and an angry, noisy culture — including reckless driving on the roads and the banal overtones of much modern day music. But you must develop an eye for hope, to see not only the negative features I have mentioned but the meadow land beyond the forest, the opportunities beyond where you are at present, for example, access to education all around if only you believe in yourself; the role models who are still out there — few as they may seem — who are willing to assist you, like members of the Police Youth Club; don’t forget the work of ALTA — Adult Literacy Tutors Association — whose CEO, Mrs. Paula Lucie-Smith, was given the Public and Civic Contribution Award, one of three prestigious Caribbean Awards given each year.
Let me now say a few words to the older members of the congregation, but this time I will use the gospel as my guide. In this passage Jesus is speaking to the crowds when his mother and brothers appear and want to speak with him, no doubt wanting to discourage him from this path he was taking. His family knows that prophets often meet a prophet’s reward — death. Jesus seemingly disregards them by asking, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Anticipating their confusion he answers the question himself: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
In saying, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother,” Jesus is redefining kinship and community. He is building the foundations of a global solidarity.
From this perspective, we all participate in the building up of the kingdom of God to the extent we become branches that provide shelter and shade for others. At their deepest core all religions speak of the common good. Much of the kingdom is related to the common good. Another feature of religion at its best is it does not let the differences or dualisms — which must exist to give any tradition its identity — to stand in the way of the upliftment of all. It is no secret that we are often divided by race, religion and politics.
But must that necessarily take away from our humanity, for our search for a national ethic of solidarity? I think the ethical imperative of the will of God for all of us as we approach our 50th anniversary of Independence is how committed we are to promoting the common good.
I see some signs of the common good being fostered but it is dimmed by the dark shadows of tribalism, prejudice and elitism. This is vividly illustrated in education. I am seeing the success of one group or groups over another; one class or classes over another; the spoils of the nation enjoyed by a few but denied by too many. The most popular retort has been: “Let them work hard and they will succeed too!” But what happens if they chose not to work as hard? Should we stop there? Many, maybe even most, would say yes. To settle for this is to neglect the importance of empowerment and to lay the foundations of a nepotist society.
One of the features of Jesus’ ministry was empowerment, as is the role of all true religious reformers and prophets. The very calling of the crowds around him his brothers, sisters and mothers was an act of what is called in Hinduism advaita — seeing beyond distinctions and dualisms. It was a call for empowerment: see who you really are, God’s heritage; tip-toe and see the meadow land beyond the forest imposed on us by others or by ourselves.
Providentially we celebrate this liturgy at La Divina Pastora/Siparee Ke Mai RC Church, the only grassroots Marian shrine in the archdiocese, a place of peaceful meeting between races, classes and religions, albeit not without distinctions and tensions. Pilgrims come to a Mother who listens and grants favours to all — Catholic, Pentecostal, Jehovah Witness, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, Baha’i, rich, poor, young, old, the sick, the dying.
This 250-year old shrine can furnish ideas and avenues of possibility for a national ethic of solidarity. I truly urge the powerful figures before me, for the sake of our children and a more peaceful future, to reduce the dualisms in our institutions — family, religion, politics, and particularly education — that are so pernicious. May we all seek the welfare of the other who is my neighbour and impress our young people with our objectivity, humility and even-handedness as we show them like another person did over 2000 years ago that we have come not to be served but to serve and give to our lives as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).