Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Darkness over nation brings rage

Illuminating the Dark Side of Our Humanity

Benny Susetyo, Pr Catholic Priest Malang

It seems that the political confusion in the present reform era has become a vicious circle. Corruption, violence, intrigues and 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 the religious movements have launched, we are stunned by reports about 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 country 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 elites, 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 in this country. 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 hitting one another? Suddenly, we have been shocked to learn that 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 Xmas as a ceremony only, an occasion without substance? Why is it that darkness veils the humanity in a country where religion is supposed to permeate all aspects of life? We do not realize that this dark side of humanity has deprived us of the right orientation in our life.

It 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 this supposedly religious country witnesses how we 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 elites have instead gone deeper in 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 the 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 to 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 have faith but be devoid of justice is sheer nonsense. To have faith but stop short at taking a humanitarian act 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 prejudices. 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 a power play. When a Christian decides to engage himself in politics, he must uphold morality, refrain from lying, avoid graft or resort to intimidation and violence.

He must not pursue his goal at the expense of other people's interest and public welfare. He must not strive to reach his objective by depriving other people, especially the little people, of their rights and happiness."

Just 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 Xmas celebration. It is not a rite only. Instead, it is the celebration of faith marking the presence of a cute baby amid 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 elites. Many more have to work day and night at crossroads to feed their hungry stomachs.

The sorrow of these children must make us reflect on the more profound significance of Xmas. The Xmas 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 Virgin Mary was in when injustices, 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 got the blessings. In fact, you will be pregnant and give birth to the Messiah that mankind has been awaiting."

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