Mon, 22 Dec 2003

A Christmas message: have faith, but be not blind

Benny Susetyo, Pr, Catholic Priest, Malang

It seems that political confusion in the present reform era has become a vicious circle. Corruption, violence, intrigue and other calamities have battered us time and again, close to paralyzing us as a nation. We have become a nation without wit, powerless against a host of problems.

Amid the anti-graft campaign that religious movements have launched, we are stunned by reports of banking scams at BNI and BRI. No parties wish to assume responsibility. Instead, they are blaming one another.

Our reason is rarely used in the right manner, if not failing to function altogether. Bloodshed is everywhere across the archipelago, but it fails to move us to tears or resort to self- criticism. For most of us, it is but a natural course of events. The political elite, who have lost their common sense, have evicted people from their birth places. It seems that this nation is now devoid of a sense of humanity.

This is the dark side of humanity. Why have we suddenly become blind and incapable of reading the signs of the times? Why have we, all of a sudden, turned beastly, killing, slandering and hurting one another? Suddenly -- we have been shocked to learn -- we top the list of nations where corruption, oppression, arson and rioting prevail.

This Christmas, we have to ask again whether there is still some light in this country. Do we still celebrate Christmas as a ceremony only, an occasion without substance? Why is it that darkness veils humanity in a country where religion is supposed to permeate all aspects of life? We do not realize that this darkness has deprived us of our right orientation in life.

There is darkness everywhere. The firmament of the nation is overcast. There is hardly any virtue left in the entire country. What is left is disappointment mixed with rage. Every day of the year, the people of this supposedly religious country condemn, pounce upon and topple one another. We no longer trust one another and act like lions ready to prey upon one another.

Mother nature has sent a lot of warnings and meted out punishments -- disasters, drought, flash floods, landslides -- but our elite have turned their heads and gone deeper into their oblivion. They have lost their conscience and have failed to see these mishaps as signals that they should rectify the behavior with which they fool ordinary people. Their conscience has been blinded by their pursuit of personal benefits. For them, religion is only a twilight carol hummed at midnight.

These people are simply dancing on Mount Sinai and turn a blind eye as well as a deaf ear to the oppression that is unfolding before them. They ignore the quality of faith. They don't bother about the necessity to lead an honest life before God.

Isaiah says that God will accept a religious service if there is solidarity among men. Isaiah tells us that God has decreed that He would like us to distribute our bread to the hungry, give homes to the homeless and provide the naked with clothing. Isaiah actually corrects our narrow-minded way of practicing our religion, in which we are concerned with ourselves (our own group and our safety). Isaiah admonishes us because the way we practice our religion has failed to become a beacon for other people.

The presence of a man with faith must be a blessing for his fellow human beings. The late Mr Soegipranoto said that Christians had to be strong and consistent in their principles but should demonstrate gentleness when meeting with their fellow human beings. In reality now, religion has degenerated into simply "a language of identity" devoid of humanity. Light will prevail when a man of faith is not simply performing his religious service as a rite.

This is what every man of faith should feel called upon to do. To have faith but be devoid of justice is sheer nonsense. To have faith but stop short of humanitarian action means death. When you have faith but you are not ready to fight for justice and truth, your faith is rotten. There is no bargain for this demand. When a man with faith simply turns a blind eye or a deaf ear to oppression, exploitation and manipulation, he commits a gross sin, much bigger than if he is faithless.

Faith that is implemented only in the context of a rite will never liberate people from prejudice. When you have faith, you must have the courage to go beyond yourself and serve as a witness. Bishop Romero has said: "Engaging yourself in politics means serving the community, not engaging yourself in power-play. When a Christian decides to engage himself in politics, he must uphold morality, refrain from lying, avoid graft or resorting to intimidation and violence.

He must not pursue his goals at the expense of other people's interests nor public welfare. He must not strive to reach his objective by depriving other people, especially the little people, of their rights and happiness."

Humanity must be used as a yardstick for the exercise of politics. Those involved in politics must give light to the world. This is the responsibility we all -- who long for the end of violence -- shoulder.

This is the genuine Christmas celebration. It is not a rite only. Instead, it is the celebration of faith marking the presence of the baby Jesus among us, when the world is in sorrow. It is a celebration of faith when millions of children are weeping in their powerlessness against the increasingly more cruel world. These children have been robbed of their childhood as open fields have been turned into supermarkets, factories and golf courses. Millions of other children must leave their birthplaces as victims of the games played by the political elite. Many more have to work day and night on the street to fill their hungry stomachs.

The sorrow of these children must make us reflect on the more profound significance of Christmas. The Christmas message tells us to be no longer afraid to face this hostile world, a miserable world without certainty in every aspect of life.

Bear in mind that it is this condition that the Virgin Mary was in, when injustice, oppression, manipulation and arbitrariness took a dominant hold in her society. God sent good news. He did not send this good news to prime ministers, kings, rulers or tycoons. He sent this good news through a rural young woman called Mary.

Mary was the reflection of an innocent and simple mother. This simplicity, however, was wrapped inside an extraordinary mystery. She could bring light to the dark horizon. When people were powerless and hopeless, Mary was present among them.

When the angels sent their greetings to Mary -- "Hail, You the Blessed One,", this greeting marked that safety was present inside Virgin Mary. This good news showed that the greeting had severed the shackles that alienated man, till then controlled by his wild desires, revenge and the fight for power, riches and crowns. The angels said: "Do not be afraid because you have been blessed. In fact, you will give birth to the Messiah that mankind has been awaiting."

And Christmas brings good news to those who are simple and live in sincerity. This is our common Christmas.