Monday, June 19, 2006

Clergy-laity relationship

Sunday June 18 2006

Tensions in clergy-laity relationship

At the recently concluded pre-PMPC III convention for the laity, regrettably the one overwhelming grouse among the participants from all three dioceses was the unfavorable clergy-laity relationship. This unhealthy relationship aroused deep emotions among all the participants and if we were to conduct a survey I bet it would also be a main grouse of lay Catholics all over the country.

In the past the clergy was everything for the laity. Besides being the spiritual guide they were also the educator, counselor and even sometimes the financial providers for their parishioners. No major family decisions were taken without consulting the priest who was placed on such a high pedestal. The latter earned this high esteem in the hearts of the people by their caring attitude and love.

With rapid socio-economic developments over the 30 years, the nation has evolved to become an industrialized power. A new generation of leaders, who were the products of the new education system that stressed only on academic achievements at the expense of morals and good values, took over the reigns of power.

Parallel changes in the Catholic Church saw a new generation of clergy and laity taking control. Contributions and sacrifices of the earlier generation were ignored and sometimes even ridiculed. The more educated laity with their tremendous skills in many fields was not acknowledged to be utilized by the clergy.

Instead they introduced numerous new rules and formations for the laity to make them toe the line. Very high sounding terminologies and campaigns were introduced for what used to be simple teachings of Jesus. These changes have kept away many highly qualified and intellectual members of the laity. In fact many have become strangers in their own church.

A major grouse of the laity is that the clergy has lost the human touch with the people. They do not go down to the very people whom they are supposed to serve. It is sad that so many families out in parishes have never been visited by their parish priest. Despite failing to carry out pastoral visits, they are quick to “punish” the wayward by refusal of the sacraments and burial..

The church is run like a political or business institution where there is no place for compassion and forgiveness in enforcing the church laws. In fact unreasonable refusal for burial and sacraments has driven many Catholics away to other faiths.

The attitude of our clergy that they are indispensable and next to God contributes a great deal to their problems with the laity. This “I know all” syndrome belittles the intelligence and capabilities of the layman. Their attitude of “take it or leave” is deplorable. Of late we have witnessed young priests abusing and showing disrespect for “ignorant” elderly parishioners. In some places this has even resulted in ugly untoward incidents.

In today’s rapidly changing materialistic world, family life has become so complex and challenging. Bringing up children with good values is the biggest challenge and needs full time involvement of parents. Divorce and immorality are so rampant and are increasingly becoming accepted norms even among Catholics. To add to this burden is the job related and financial constraints. The clergy refuse to understand the torments the laity has to contend with everyday of their lives.

There is general agreement that the clergy refuse to listen to the laity. Numerous slogans, campaigns and special occasion days are launched year after year but these remain as a campaign per se.Feedback from the people is not encouraged and entertained.

Transparency in day to day administration of the Church is badly lacking. Lay people are not consulted and sometimes important facts and figures regarding finance and property sale are intentionally hidden from them. It must be remembered that the laity comprise 90% of the Church and everything that belongs to the Church is rightfully theirs.

Government’s policy of racial segregation has seeped into the Church causing racial disunity. Instead of trying to overcome this by adopting common language sessions we are further segregating the people by actively promoting the incorporation of vernacular languages and cultures into our system.

Today priests are seen as Chinese or Indians and each ethnic group wants the priest of his own. There is a power tussle going on silently in most parishes based on ethnicity.

Inappropriate mannerism and dressing of the clergy in public is a real cause of concern for the laity amidst their non-Catholic friends. The clergy must remember that they are priests twenty-four hours and not when celebrating the mass only.

The laity’s contribution to this deteriorating relationship should not be underestimated. They fail to see that priests are just as human with all the weaknesses. They too affected by the fast moving materialistic world where spiritual and moral values are brushed aside in the pursuit of wealth and power. The laity should not just scrutinize their weaknesses; instead we should impress them with our simple Christian way of life.

As we struggle to improve our secular life, we should also work closely with our clergy to enrich our spiritual life. Priests are in acute shortage and they are overworked although many among them never stop toiling and struggling.

We fail to appreciate their sacrifice of leaving their loved ones and worldly possessions to become one with us. We have to accept them as members of our families and be ready to serve and support them in every aspect.

There is an urgent need to foster a better clergy-laity relation based on the unselfish and non-egoistic love of Christ. In this relationship both are equal.

There should be mutual love and respect for each other, as we all workers in the Lord’s vineyard, where He alone is the master. Each of us, either laity or clergy, is bestowed with His love in the form of our talents and skills, to be shared freely with one another. Unless we can do that we will not be worthy followers of Jesus Christ.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Fighting an unreasonable authority

Friday June 16, 2006

Fighting an unreasonable authority

I refer to your editorial “Ethics and police brutality” and Anil Netto’s “IPCMC and the Kingdom” both in Herald,June 11,2006.

Yes, police brutality is on the increase in our country and it must be stopped immediately, but how. Your suggestion for an ethics commission to formulate a code of ethics for the police force, a code not based on the ethics of just one majority religion but also on those of other religions as well is definitely the right solution. The problem is not that we not have such code. We do have many codes of ethics, many rules and even laws, but the authorities refuse to abide by them when certain parties are involved.

Some glaring examples are the disruption of the forum by Article 11 in Penang, the objection and even threat to the formation of the Inter-Faith Council (IFC), the demolition of temples and denial of our rights to construct our places of worship.

Equally disturbing is the reaction of the police to the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).This was recommended by the Royal Commission, backed by the government, none other than the prime minister himself and the majority of the people, yet the police can refuse to accept it.

In this scenario of blatant disregard for standard norms, where do we stand in our struggle to attain our rights as the minority group?

We are faced with an all powerful authority that refuses to see reason and follow the universally accepted rules. Even the federal constitution is ignored. We have reached the crossroads and unsure what course of action to take next.

I believe Jesus has shown us the way to overcome our predicament through his passion. He took all the insult, humiliation, persecution and finally death on the cross with great humility, patience and forgiveness.

The most recent personality of our time, Mother Teresa, succeeded in applying those virtues in her life. Faced with great opposition from the Church itself and the array of the forces of hate, violence and greed, she stood firmly with her unshakable faith in Christ who brought her salvation.

Christ has given us his most powerful weapon, Love, hidden in the depths of our hearts. We have to search and continue building on it and extend that to our “enemies” who may ridicule and “persecute” us. They may appear unreasonable or even cruel now but with perseverance and unwavering faith in Christ, that Love, will become instruments of justice, peace and love in the world.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Mob rule

June 19, 2006

Mob rule must be checked at all costs

May 14 2006 was a sad day for all Malaysians. On that day the forum, "Federal constitution, protection for all" by Article 11 was abruptly called off as a result of mob pressure. Indeed it is very distressing to know that a legitimate forum by law abiding citizens can be interrupted by mob rule in the very presence of the police who should provide the necessary protection
Although the strong condemnation by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Nazri Aziz was reassuring, nevertheless it is not enough to quell the fears of ordinary peace loving citizens of the minority faiths.

Is this type of mob rule going to be the norm in the future? To add to this fear is the way the police force is reacting to the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). The thought of mob rule taking over the country sends shivers and fears among citizens who love peace and want to solve problems by negotiations and discussion in a civilized manner.

The federal constitution is the document that guarantees the rights of all citizens. If that itself is blatantly trampled upon by brutal means how can we expect to be given our legitimate rights as citizens of this country?

The majority of Malaysians is sensible and law abiding and would engage in dialogue to solve whatever problems that surface from time to time. We should not allow a small group to upset the peace and harmony we have today. They should not be allowed to use the threat of violence to suppress the problems facing us.

The government, under the leadership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, should come out strongly against these people who resort to mob rule. Recently the prime minister has condemned the preaching of hate and violence and has called for moderation and dialogue between Islam and the West. In the domestic scene too, all parties should heed his call, to reconcile their differences in a civilized and peaceful manner. Dialogue is the only way towards this end not threat of force and violence.

As Christians and belonging to the minority group, we should continue to impress the government by peaceful means, to invoke dialogue to settle our problems amicably. As we ask the government to be more open to dialogue, let us show them that the Catholic Church too practices such principles in all its dealings.

Meanwhile the Church must introduce special prayers and intercessions for freedom to profess our faith as enshrined in the Federal Constitution without threat and intimidation. Let us ask God to enlighten the hearts and minds of our leaders to see the wisdom of accepting us as equal citizens of our beloved country.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Da Vinci Code - debate


Date published: Sunday, May 21, 2006
letters to the editor

Fictitious Da Vinci Code should not shake our strong faith

Dear Editor,

Of late a number of controversies have cropped up that have resulted in our Catholic Church going on the defensive to deny and denounce these allegations. These are the Da Vinci Code, The Gospel of Judas and the recent publication of a scientific explanation for certain miracles performed by Jesus. Now the movie version of the Da Vinci Code is to be released which seems to make our church authorities apprehensive and some parties calling for its ban.

The various churches, in particular the Catholic Church, have embarked on extensive counter measures to rebut these allegations. Do we need to go to such an extent to counter these allegations?. The church at its highest level contends these allegations are baseless and malicious, then why this jitter?

Jesus himself was not shaken by false accusations which finally led to his crucifixion. This was because he spoke the truth. What if these allegations are true? Only God knows for sure whether they are true or otherwise. This is not going to be the end of such claims and allegations. As long as man exists, his egoism and curiosity will continue to rule him and he will persist in his attempts to disprove our long accepted beliefs. Man will continue to cast doubts on our faith and beliefs that are so dear to us. Modern scientific principles may even succeed in proving certain of our established beliefs wrong. We must have an open mind to accept the truth however bitter it may be.

Are we going to be shaken every time someone tries to shatter our belief with new allegations or discoveries? If so our faith must be very superficial and we have not understood Christ fully. His teachings will stand the test of time. His two great commandments, love God and love your neighbour as yourself, are relevant throughout the ages and would never become obsolete. If we understand and practise these two great commandments as Christ asked of us, we need not be too worried that our faith will be proven wrong.

The trouble is, today we are more obsessed with rituals than the essence of our faith. If religion is about dressing according to a code and the observation of rituals without a real concern for the condition of the human heart and conduct, it misses the point. In such a situation there is cause for concern every time someone tries to shatter our faith. In all instances it is the rituals that are brought into dispute not the essence.

The two great personalities of recent times, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, proved this point very precisely. No amount of coaxing, however strong or controversial, could divert them from their strong convictions of service to fellow man. This was because of their strong commitment to sharing the inherent love of God with others. Let us too pray for the development of this strong commitment to share Christ’s love with others at all times.

Dr Chris Anthony

Date published: Sunday, June 04, 2006
letters to the editor

Differentiate fact from fiction

Dear Editor,

I refer to the letters relating to the above by Dr Chris Anthony of Butterworth and The Catholic Observer of Kuala Lumpur, both which appeared in your issue of HERALD on May 21 2006. I fully agree with Dr Anthony’s analysis of what I consider the gross over-reaction of the Catholic Church, certain Catholic groups and Catholic individuals to the release of the screen version of the book authored by Dan Brown. Neither the author of the book nor the producers of the film go so far as to vouch for the veracity of certain themes or plots in the novel and the film. The book is clearly categorised as fiction and no more.

Yet we have these Catholic institutions and individuals calling for all sorts of mass reaction to the book and film — anything from banning the book and film, to threats to burn down cinemas which “dare” to screen the film. Some local media have published the so-called Catholic response to issues in the book, advising those who plan to see the movie to first read it. Is our faith so vulnerable as to call for these sort of actions? Many of those who call the Catholic/Christian masses to react in this way, have neither read the book nor seen the movie, so what is the fuss all about? In doing so, they have inadvertently brought greater attention to the film than any of the producers’ marketing gimmicks could have. It is Dan Brown and the film’s producers who are going to be laughing all the way to the bank at the end of it all.

Are we not mature enough to read the book or view the film for what they are worth? Can we not distinguish between fact and fiction after being brought up in the great traditions of the Christian faith? I remember a similar uproar not that long ago when the novel “The Thornbirds” was serialised for television. Even Catholic bishops called for it not to be allowed to be shown on local television. Yet the theme of the book is not something fictitious in reality, and as most of us know today there have certainly been real cases of Catholic priests leaving their ministry in order to get married or lead their lives with the person they love.

In this age of digital communication and information technology the Church and such individuals as The Catholic Observer would do better to use these channels to spread the Good News rather than call for mob reaction to seemingly innocuous books and films.

Sabahan Catholic,Sabah

Clergy should not remain silent over Da Vinci Code lies

Dear Editor,

I would like to refer to Dr Chris Anthony’s mediocre regurgitated rhetoric in the May 21 issue of the HERALD’s letters column. What was most sad was that his letter was highlighted as though it was the best and most wise answer to the serious allegations made against Jesus in The Da Vinci Code.

It is clear that the learned Doctor has not really read the gospel or has any kind of spiritual life in the Church. He has totally failed to understand what is happening and is once again misleading people.

I really don’t understand what he means when he says, “modern scientific principles may even succeed in proving certain established beliefs wrong.We must have an open mind to accept the truth however bitter it may be.” Does he mean that there may come a time when the gospel or the teachings of the Church may not be all that true due to scientific discovery or explanation?
His statement that a “strong faith” will counter all allegations made is ridiculous because as “Church” we are responsible to uphold and safeguard the truth as taught by our Church.
His statement, “The trouble is, today we are more obsessed with rituals than the essence of our faith” does not really hold water because the rituals of our faith lead us automatically to a deeper understanding and doing of “love of God and our neighbour”. Try attending Mass everyday and praying the rosary by meditating on the mysteries and see if it does not lead you to “love God and neighbour” more .

Mother Teresa was the epitome of obsession with rituals in the Catholic Church. She strongly advocated reciting the rosary, attending daily Mass and visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, this she had strongly said was the foundation of her work among the poorest of the poor.

Once again I urge our bishops not to remain silent but to issue a “pastoral letter” that should be made mandatory to be read at all Sunday masses. This letter should condemn as heresy The Da Vinci Code and The Gospel of Judas . It is time that we woke up to this attack and take steps to prevent the erosion of our faith among those whose faith is not that strong.

There was a poll taken in Britain by Austin Ivereigh who is the press secretary to Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Conner. He said, “Our poll shows that for many many Catholics The Da Vinci Code is not just entertainment.” He heads a collection of prominent English Roman Catholic Monks, theologians, nuns and Opus Dei members who commissioned the survey by pollster “Opinion Research Business” (ORB). In the survey, among 1,000 Catholic adults, 60 per cent believed that Jesus had children after seeing the movie or reading the book

Let us be wary of people who subtly undermine the Church by appearing as Angels of light who “'pick and choose” and distort the truth for popularity or financial gain.

Bernard Anthony Faleel Subang Jaya