Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year 2010 – Being better Humans wherever we are

Following Christ on His terms not ours

I met an old friend of mine after a long time. He was a staunch Catholic once but he had the left the Catholic Church for some reason some years ago. Subsequently he joined a number of churches of other Christian denominations, actively participating in every church he joined. Today he has left all of them and remains what he calls “a true Christian outside the church”. By that he means he follows Christ’s teachings as He himself taught and lived.

According to my friend the people inside the church today are busy fighting among themselves for their own selfish reasons which leaves them little time to do what Jesus really commanded; to serve fellow men. Even when they do some service it is with some ulterior motive of seeking popularity, power or monetary gains. Even the pastors seem to be no better as they do everything for money with little compassion and empathy for the people they are supposed to serve. They may be great preachers but poor doers of what they preach. From his experience he concludes that “The people outside the church are better humans than those inside who call themselves Christians, the followers of Christ”.

This is a very strange statement from a man who has been very actively involved in many churches but ironically seems to be true not only in other churches but in our own Catholic Church as well. I realize a number those who have left the church seem to be happier doing God’s work outside on their own than when they were inside where there are many all out to stop them from doing so. Unfortunately the place where we are supposed to serve God has become a place for politicking where jealousy and revenge which have become the guiding rules, instead of forgiveness and repentance as what Christ wants. What has gone wrong with the church and the people in it?

We have many talented people in our midst but why are they reluctant to serve in the church ministries? Why are so many who were active before leaving the ministries and the church itself? Why is that only a tiny fraction of the members come to church despite making Sunday attendance compulsory? What is being done to keep the people especially those with dissenting views within the flock? We conveniently ignore them by classifying them as ‘lapse Catholics’ and we have no time for them as we think they have none for us. Is that what wants us to do? Christ was very clear of what to do with such people in his parable of the prodigal son.

The church today has become an institutionalized organization with rules and regulations based on human experiences and expectations. In such an organization the rules are enforced by the priest and those close to him, the so-called inner circle. There is little or no room for dialogue and debate let alone dissent. The policy of “If you are not with me then you are against me” seems to be prevalent among our priests and their cohorts. Such an attitude makes it impossible for many talented, capable and highly qualified ordinary members of the congregation to be accepted as part of the team. If one is not accepted into the inner circle then it would be better for him to leave otherwise he has to face the wrath of the priest and his inner circle even if he does the right thing.

Today the church is more involved in rituals and mammoth prayers sessions to praise and worship God. We hope to get closer to Him by being preoccupied with such actions of worship without taking pains to understand the plight of our neighbor. We leave everything behind and rush to worship God hoping to get Him to listen to our prayers, which is most of the time for our own well being. Jesus clearly tells us what to do before we go to worship him, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering”.(Mathew5:23-24)

Very often we know what God wants us to do but we take the easy way out to follow Him on our terms not His, as His ways go against the worldly desires that we all crave for in our lives.
This New Year let us resolve to put aside our differences with those we cannot get along and come together to build God’s Kingdom in our BEC, parish and community at large. Let us not involve in the petty squabbles in our parish or be discouraged by them but try to follow Christ the way He wants, if not in the Church then outside. It is better to be a good human outside the Church than being a bad Christian within.This is the message I see in Jesus.

A very Happy and joyous New Year 2010

Dr.Chris Anthony

If we do the right thing at all times God will be always be on our side what come may along the way

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bring Christ into the lives of people and not drive Him away

Understanding the complexity of NBVM

Many people including past parish priests and parishioners regard NBVM in Butterworth as a notorious parish with many people out to cause trouble and problems for the parish priests who have worked there. In fact since I came here 16 years ago an unusually large number of priests (more than six I guess) have come and gone and yet there is still no stability in the administration of the parish. Even at present there is a lot of unhappiness among the people with the new parish priest who has taken over just about four months ago. The question is who is wrong, the priests or the people?

NBVM is a large parish with approximately 8,000 parishioners but it is poorly developed physically, spiritually and intellectually. Many blame the priests for being incompetent, others certain long-serving individuals with ulterior motives who wrongly influence the priest to take sides and there are those contribute their failure to the people of Butterworth who are generally considered to be trouble makers.

The majority of parishioners agree that the parish needs revamp to keep with the rapidly changing society. Instead of blaming any individual or groups for the mess we are in, as that would only cause more ill feelings and hate, it would be better for us to understand why our parish does not seem to move forward like others. The tremendous social and demographic changes that have taken place over the last 2 decades or so on mainland Penang especially in Butterworth has resulted in a very diverse population with regards to socio-economic status, literacy rate and standard of living.

Butterworth has become a complex regional industrial centre with the people coming from all walks of life – manual workers, unskilled and skilled factory workers, executives and professionals. To add to the complexity there has been an influx of large numbers of foreign workers into our factories and plantations. With these changes it is only natural for the NBVM parish in Butterworth to reflect the extreme variation of the population demography on mainland Penang.

Twenty years ago Butterworth was considered a “cowboy town”. The population then comprised mainly of factory workers but today there are many officers from the administrative, executive and professional groups as well. Many of us including the parish priests of NBVM underestimate the demands of this increasing maturity and literate class of parishioners.

In many of the other urban and rural parishes the population is more homogenous socioeconomically, with either the lower, middle or upper social class predominating. However in Butterworth the population is widely heterogeneous with a mixture of all three groups.

Furthermore there is a large ethnic and language diversity. The expectations of each group are very different from another. This wide variation in the population makes it difficult to manage as it would be impossible to please all groups at the same time. Managing a community comprising diverse socioeconomic, language and ethnic groups of people demands additional experience and skills than managing a more homogenous group.

I am afraid that our priests especially the younger ones are not equipped with the special skills to handle this diverse crowd. What is most frustrating is that many of them are so impatient and arrogant and refuse to listen to the people who are older, wiser and more experienced. There is little or no respect for the elders in the parish which is indeed very very sad.

Quoting from the medical profession to which I belong, a doctor is trained to consider his patients as most important and never to blame them for his mistakes however difficult and troublesome the patients may be. Similarly if our priests regard the parishioners as most important then a lot of the problems would have never arisen in the first place. The biggest setback is our priests tend to alienate themselves from the very people whom they are supposed to guide and serve. They adopt a confrontational attitude towards the people who dissent and ‘rebel’ which is never the way to deal with fellow humans. What is needed is a conciliatory environment for dialogue, discussion and even debate to solve the problems that are bound to surface from time to time.

The way out of our problems in NBVM is to revamp the system of administration. The priest is the undisputed head of the parish but the PPC must be given greater independence and power to manage finance and the day to day running of the parish. Gone are the days when the priest can manage the parish single-handedly. Today society is more sophisticated and complex, so are its problems, to be handled by the priest alone. He must delegate the non-spiritual work to the PPC which must be more professionally run.

The PPC like in the old days when it was called the Parish Council must be duly elected by the people at the Parish Assembly. Its chairman and other main office bearers must be people of high calibre, integrity and well qualified. At present the PPC is powerless and ineffective to handle the various problems. The role of the PPC should not be restricted to organising feast days, anniversaries, parties, family day and other such “entertainment” events. It must cater for an overall development on the spiritual and intellectual aspects of the people to meet the new challenges that face us as Christians.

We should be addressing more important issues like declining Christian education, declining morality, increasing divorce and breakup of family units, declining influence of the Church in the lives of the people and so on.

We should formulate programmes to help those in need in our parish like those with spiritual, medical, financial, marital, social and psychological problems. In short we must, as the Church, identify with the problems of the people and not alienate ourselves from their plight. To do this we must have a parish council which is dynamic, capable and fully independent working hand in hand with the parish priest who should be able to advice and guide the council and not dictate policies according to his whims and fancy.

Today the reputation of the Church and our faith is being challenged by the people of the world. We are being challenged by non-Christians, other Christian denominations, non-believers, new scientific discoveries and of late by atheists. If we continue to be obsessed with the rituals of the past without accommodating the new technological and scientific advancements there is no way we are going to stop the exodus of our people as our religion would be then become more and more irrelevant to them.

In short we should put our minds and hearts together, pool our resources and energy and explore ways to bring Christ into the lives of people and not drive Him away by our un-Christ-like attitude and behaviour that is unfortunately becoming more prevalent in our Catholic communities all over.

Dr.chris Anthony

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Christmas : A season to seek and grant forgiveness

Christ a symbol of Humility and forgiveness

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas it may be pertinent for us to reflect of its true meaning in our lives particularly in our relationship with those we encounter including fellow parishioners. In many parishes there is so much politicking going on that radiates a lot of ill feelings and hatred which is becoming very unchristian.

Our priests continue to give beautiful and powerful sermons Sunday after Sunday during the season of Advent stressing on the importance of getting rid of our sinful ways in order to receive Jesus into our hearts this Christmas. However these sermons go unheeded to a large extent for various reasons. When even the priests do not follow the very sermons they preach from the pulpit, how we can expect the people to do so. Infighting, acts of revenge and jealousy continue to prevail in our lives outside and inside the Church.

Whenever somebody goes against our wish we are ready to confront him to put him down. Whenever someone hurts us we quickly retaliate with anger and revenge trying to overwhelm him with our power, wealth and influence. The solutions to most inter-personal problems are easy – to dialogue in a spirit of love and goodwill, but very often we choose confrontation and revenge instead.

We fail to realize that those who rebel against us may in fact be crying out for help which we are too arrogant to ignore, ridicule and look down with contempt. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go down to them and listen to their grouses and see what can be done to win their hearts instead of challenging them with our power and might?

There is no place for humility and forgiveness in our dealings with those we encounter, only arrogance, pride and egoism. We rush to make the pre-Christmas confession but are not willing to forgive those who hurt us. It is easy to say sorry to God but not to say that personally to the one whom we hurt. How can we expect God to forgive us when we are not willing to personally ask forgiveness from those we hurt? We say we are followers of Christ but ignore the basic lesson he taught us, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.

If we reflect on our attitude towards fellow humans we will admit that Christ is becoming increasingly irrelevant in our lives in this highly materialistic and immoral world driven by greed and selfishness. We claim to be following Christ but there are hardly anything Christ-like in our lives other than steadfastly holding on to rituals. Where are all these leading us?

The two great virtues expounded by Jesus were humility and forgiveness which he demonstrated to the extreme by His Passion and death on the cross. His birth into the world in an environment of extreme poverty was another example of his humility which we are commemorating this Christmas. Each one us has some degree of arrogance, pride and egoism in us, which are the sins that we must get rid from our lives during this Christmas to attain the peace that Christ promised.

If Christ was a symbol of humility and forgiveness what are we? As we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our homes and hearts this Chritmas, let us look around to see how we can become more Christ-like in our own lives, in our family, our office, our neighborhood and in our own BEC and parish.

Dr.Chris Anthony