Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Church is Political

Merdeka Day 2015

Today we celebrate our 58th Hari Merdeka, at least for the Peninsular side of Malaysia. We often tend to forget that Sabah and Sarawak achieved independence on different days and that the founding of our nation as a Federation only took place in the year 1963, and on a different date, 16th of September, to be exact. Let us never forget. For if we do, then we have fallen victim to those who wish to rewrite our history and re-define the meaning of our nationhood.

In the last week, the Catholic Church had been accused of being overly political when it was announced that three of the churches in downtown Kuala Lumpur would be open to participants of the weekend Bersih Rally. When did we begin to construe an act of charity and hospitality as political posturing? This, however, is not a new accusation. It is one that has come from politicians themselves, from governments, and even from Catholics in the pews. The premise of such accusation is simply this – one should not mix politics with religion.  The Archbishop’s assertion that the Church is not affiliated to any political party and has only opened its doors on humanitarian grounds, did not sufficiently satisfy the detractors. So the question we must ask ourselves today is, “Should the Catholic Church, or can the Catholic Church be political?”

The word “political” comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “people.” In this sense, the Church, which is certainly about God, is also very much about the people, namely the People of God, and in fact the Church serves to be a universal sacrament of salvation for the whole world. Therefore, the Church is and always will be political, because the beneficiaries of her mission, is inevitably the people. This is why the Church can speak out about anything and everything – whether it be the environment, or the economy, or about politics, in so much as these areas ultimately impact the people. The Church, the Body of Christ continues to be a prophetic voice that seeks to defend the truth of the gospel and its values, which includes the dignity of the human person, life and the freedom of religion. The Church not only has the authority to speak, it has to duty to do so.

Some may then proceed to admit that yes, the Church is political, but the Church is not partisan, it is not bias. There is some truth to this if we were to say that being partisan means aligning ourselves to a particular political party and its ideology. But then again, it is not true to say that the Church is never partisan, that the Church does not take sides. Today’s gospel reading places things in perspective. The Church is partisan, the Church is biased, the Church must take sides – she does so with the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the persecuted, the incarcerated and the marginalised. She must speak on their behalf, she must defend their rights, she must even be ready to lay down her life for them if necessary. This was the mission of Jesus and so it must also be the mission of the Church. She can do no less than her Master.

Why does the Church side with these categories of persons? Well, it is simple. These categories are often regarded by the larger society as invisible, thus not deserving its attention or time. The rich and the powerful have our ears, but not the poor. Thus, the cries of the poor are a great corrective to our self-importance, selfishness and pride. If man has turned a deaf ear to their appeals, God does not suffer from the same apathy. He draws close, nay, He “bends down to the broken hearted.” (Ps 34:18) If our heart’s desires are gifts from God, then listening to the cries of the poor reveals the demands these gifts make on us. Any Christian life which does not listen to the voice of the poor, to victims of injustice, persecution, corruption and abuse, effectively shuts out the voice of God. Today, the Church hears their cry. It would seem that the words of the prophet Isaiah ring true today, “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.”

So, once again, the question, “Is the Church political?” begs a firm and unambiguous answer. Yes! The Church is in fact deeply, inherently, and inescapably political. Jesus’ ministry began with the proclamation of the good news of a coming kingdom, and ended with his execution at the hands of an empire threatened by his own quietly confident claim to kingship. Jesus’ life was about inaugurating a new kingdom, an alternative political order, to be embodied in the world by his church. Of course, Jesus was a different sort of king, and his kingdom was a different sort of kingdom. Likewise, it entailed a different form of politics—but it is unmistakably political. It has been, it is now, and it will always be a vying between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. And we Christians would be wise to choose the winning side.

In his recent message for the local church in conjunction with Merdeka Day, our Archbishop reminds us that the “Church prompts her members to respond to the gospel mandate to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). Deeds rendered out of charity and mercy as well as championing the cause of truth and justice, can have a strong impact on the rejuvenation of our society.”

Christ’s powerful words spoken to us at Mass are meant to change things, to change us, to change the hearts and the lives of all who hear them. He not only speaks the Truth, He is the the Way, the Truth and the Life. And we who consume his body at communion become him, we must be so consumed by the Truth, we become Truth. More than ever, our nation needs to hear this reassuring voice. The Church becomes the medium for this voice.  In the midst of an unprecedented crisis of integrity and truth, where the Malaysian public are treated daily to massive doses of rumours, spurious speculations, half-truths, detractions and distractions, and outright lies, the Church must speak once again in a clear voice. When the Church does not speak out, evil can fill that void. Silence in the face of evil can signal assent. Evil’s voice would then have the floor. And so, we are called to speak out; to speak the Truth, defend it at all cost and be prepared to pay the heavy price for it. Let us boldly go forth to speak that truth in love, “for we cannot do anything against the truth but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8), for it is that same “truth that will set you free” (Jn 8:32). God bless all of you. God bless Malaysia.

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