Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lent 2010 – Love your neighbor

Giving up something for peace

The Penang Diocese Lenten campaign theme for this year is “Love your neighbor”, a theme that is very appropriate in a world that is ruled by hate especially for those of a different race and creed. In the world today there are clashes between people of different ethnicity, color and creed, which has resulted in the wars in many parts of the world; in the Middle-East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ireland and many others. Then there are the violence and killings by suicide bombers and the gruesome slaughter of those taken hostage by religious militants. It appears that the world is taken over by those with hate and vengeance and killings perpetrated in the name of God and religion.

The violence continues with no end in sight. Politicians and others including religious leaders in power and entrusted to bring peace are themselves guilty of abuses and scandal-ridden with immoral deeds. Where are we heading to as a human race?

On the home front we too are witnessing such acts of hate among the various races although not as serious as in other countries. The recent dispute over the word ‘Allah’ almost took our nation to the brink of religious riots, being saved by the moderate Muslim majority who rose up to the occasion to stop the violence and offered their goodwill in the form various conciliatory gestures. The Christians onthe other hand for once followed Jesus in adopting the virtue of forgiveness and offered the other cheek when struck on one.

The court may have ruled in our favor but the issue of Allah is far from over. There is still a lot of inter-racial and inter-religious tensions that need to be relieved by the concerted action of all peace-loving Malaysians. On our part let us do the little we can to bring peace to our neighbor.

As we set foot into the season of Lent, it may be the right time for us to adopt the virtues that Jesus demonstrated during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the washing of the feet and the subsequent Passion and death on the cross.

The entry into Jerusalem indicated the willingness of Jesus to stand up for the truth despite knowing well that it is going to cost Him his life. How do we measure up to Jesus when we are asked to stand up for truth many times in our own lives? Do we take the easy way out and follow the masses or stand up to be counted knowing that by doing so we may be penalized? In times of trouble do we abandon those under our care for fear of reprisal?

The washing of the feet of his apostles was an act of extreme humility that Jesus wants us to emulate in our own lives. “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet”(John13:14). In the Passion and death he demonstrated his forgiveness towards even those who insulted and persecuted him in the cruelest form. Instead of retaliating with anger and vengeance he reacted with love and forgiveness saying, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34).

Most of us will not be able to do what he did but that is what we must try to do to be worthy to be called his followers.

Very often we consider only the poor as our neighbor but we forget everyone in our midst is also our neighbor including our adversaries. Today we are confronted by some of our fellow Muslims who are misled into wanting to deny our rights to worship, threaten our peace and security, ridicule our believes, using scare tactics to make us submit and provoking us to react with anger.

As humans, we are angry, frustrated and tempted to react with anger and hate. But they are our neighbors and Jesus had commanded that we should love them not hate them. This is the time to remember what Jesus had taught us – to uphold humility, forgiveness and love even towards those who plan to harm us in one way or another. His commandment “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”(Luke 6:27) is that should make us different from all others.

As a demonstration of these virtues exalted by Jesus, it may be wise for us to give up something, which is also rightly ours for the sake of peace, unity, goodwill, and above all love for our Muslim brethren. This will be in keeping with our Lenten theme of “Love your neighbor”. This theme does not come from the bishop, priest or the Church but from the commandment that Jesus himself gave us, “You must love your neighbor as yourself”(Mark12:31)

Let us be humble to refrain from using the word “Allah” for the time being until they are ready to accept without fear or suspicion. We have nothing to lose but all to gain by helping them to overcome their fears and anxiety over the use of Allah. After all aren’t we, Muslims and Christians alike, the children of the one same God, whatever name we may choose to call Him?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Court decides but dispute continues

Where do we go from here?

The High Court verdict favoring the Christians on the Allah issue has been largely magnified and politicized by many quarters for their own benefits. It resulted in the firebombing of several churches all over the country. It was interesting that although the majority of Muslims were not comfortable with the idea of Christians calling God Allah but nevertheless the vast majority of them strongly opposed the attacks on churches that followed. These acts of arson were condemned severely by many Muslims themselves including many prominent Islamic scholars, leaders and politicians from both sides.

The reconciliatory gestures and goodwill of moderate Muslims towards Christians that followed were unbelievable and unprecedented. The peaceful and mature response from the Christians appealing for calm and forgiveness too was encouraging. The whole episode though undesirable, brought positive results for the future of inter-religious relations that form the basis of long term peace and harmony in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia.

The courts are not the best places to solve inter-religious disputes especially in our country, where politicization of almost every institution has eroded their integrity. Furthermore race and religion are rather emotional and sensitive issues that can only be solved by dialogue in the spirit of goodwill and brotherhood. Unless we can create an environment of goodwill and brotherhood there will be no compromise which is so vital for overcoming inter-ethnic conflicts.

Well we have passed that stage and now the High Court has decided in our favor but the Umno-led government and politicians are not ready to accept the verdict and have appealed against it. There is a high possibility the appeal will be upheld and we will be back to where we started but minus the goodwill we had with the government. Where do we go from here? The only way forward is dialogue, Muslim, Christian and Muslim-Christian and ultimately inter-faith which more Muslims are beginning to accept.

For the Muslims in the country this issue has divided them in terms of their opinion regarding the court verdict. Since then have been attempts by moderate Muslims to organize dialogue and debate among them in a peaceful and civil manner with regards to the legal, religious and socio-politic implications of the High Court verdict. This is indeed encouraging as it may be the beginning of the moderates taking control to lead them into the middle path.

There seem to be general agreement among the Muslims that historically the word Allah has been used by non-Muslims all over the world. However they seem to be alarmed at the thought of it being used here. This is basically due to deeply rooted fundamental insecurities with which Malay leaders must come to terms. From a very young age the Muslims are segregated and taught that Allah belongs to them alone and non-Muslims are to call God by other names. All of a sudden when the latter want to claim Allah as also theirs, it is only natural for them to react with suspicion and anger.

We see some positive signs and we must give them time which is always on our side. Let us find ways to strengthen the moderate Muslims further and not weaken them by demanding that our rights be granted immediately. By doing so we would only be playing into the hands of the minority extremists who would not hesitate to use violence to stop us from being granted our rights.

It is also timely for us Catholics and Christians of all other denominations to get together like our Muslim brethren to find a common middle ground in dealing with this and many other inter-religious disputes in the country. We have a God-given opportunity for us to unite despite the differences among us and we must not foolish to let it pass. If we who believe in Jesus cannot unite in his name, it would be naïve of us to expect to unite with those who do not believe in him.

At the same time as Catholics we must examine ourselves to see whether we ourselves are taking a moderate stand which we expect the Muslims to so. Do we see the logic and reason of those who differ from us? Are we reasonable in our demands from others? Are we listening to those we claim to serve?

We will most likely reach a deadlock in the Allah dispute if the Appeals Court squashes the High Court judgment. What next for us? Fr.Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Herald did the right thing by agreeing to the stay of the High Court judgment and refrain from using Allah while waiting for the appeal. We should continue refraining regardless of the outcome of the appeal and try to build on the unexpected goodwill shown to us by many fellow Muslims for long term peace.

The proper thing for the Church now is to go back to its people for internal dialogue and debate to get their feedback and opinion. It is the people who are affected by what the Church does not the clergy who hardly deal with fellow Muslims. It is the people who live, work and interact with Muslims day and night. It is their children who play, eat, study and grow up together with Muslim children. How can they do these in peace and harmony if there is so much mutual suspicion and ill-feeling among them in the neighborhood, offices, schools and places of work? Unfortunately such dialogue and debate are never a practice in our Catholic Church.

The clergy, who represent the people, must consider the people’s interests in whatever actions they resort to in disputes that the church may encounter from time to time. These should not be seen merely from a legal, historic or theological aspect but from a humane one that takes into consideration the good human values of peaceful co-existence – a considerate and caring attitude that tries to understand and allay the fears and anxiety of one another, however unreasonable they may be, especially those from a different race and creed.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tapping the inherent goodwill among Malaysians

Inter-religious dialogue only way out

The High court decision on the Allah issue did not go down well with the Muslim population. Although many did not agree with the verdict, the majority opted to redress it in a peaceful way. However we witnessed some tense and defining moments due to arson attacks on churches by some extremists and opportunists with political motives. While we feared for the worst, the inherent goodness that ensued from the majority Malaysians, especially our Muslim brethren, saved the nation from the brink of disaster.

The vast majority of Malaysians, including Muslims, condemned the attacks in the strongest terms. Many Muslim scholars and leaders had harsh words for those who carried out these attacks. The Christians on the other hand kept calm and avoided aggravating matters.

There was a rare show of concern for Christians by many fellow Muslims following the attacks. Despite being deeply hurt, Christians offered prayers for peace and their sermons emphasised on love and forgiveness. On the other hand many Muslim groups reciprocated with gestures of goodwill. Some even volunteered to guard the churches.

Even the politicians across the political divide came forward to condemn the attacks and offered aid and reassurance. On the whole an air of repentance and forgiveness prevailed which helped bring the tension down quickly. It must be noted that the moderate majority on both sides managed to take control to deny the minority extremists a chance to disrupt the peace and stability. Moreover it exposed the inherent goodwill in them by their conciliatory gestures that were unprecedented.

The whole episode demonstrated a high level of wisdom and maturity of the people which was underestimated all these years. They have made it clear that they are not going to allow a few opportunists to undermine the peace and harmony that we have cherished all these years.However the dispute over the use of the name of God is far from over as it is no more a religious or legal issue but a political battle which the powers that be must win at all costs.

I admit we have the constitutional right to use Allah but we must appreciate its implications in our local context. The Muslims in Malaysia, we must understand, have been brought up from a very young age that the name belongs to them alone and they have great emotional attachments to it. Those in power whose positions are under threat bent on capitalizing on these emotions to the maximum. They are not going to give up their perceived copyrights without a fight which we must avoid at all costs.

Fortunately we seem to have reached a state where the moderates among them are beginning to see things differently and it is a matter of time they will be prepared to accept others to use the name as well. Inter-faith dialogue that was a taboo before is being accepted by an increasing number of Muslims which is indeed a positive sign. We need patience and perseverance to achieve an amicable solution in peaceful manner.

It is time for Catholics and other Christian denominations to get together to chart a common stand and line of action in facing the problem now that we have won the first stage of the battle in the High Court which I am sure will be short lived. Unfortunately dialogue is the last thing that we Catholics are familiar with. Unless we sit down to debate among ourselves to find a common ground acceptable to all Christians,there is no way we are going to convince the government to accede to our peaceful demands.

We have agreed as a sign of goodwill to the stay of the High Court order which is a good and considerate move. When the Appeals Court upholds the appeal, which I am sure it will, we will be back to square one minus our goodwill.It would be wise for us to leave it at that and negotiate to be allowed to use the word in Sabah and Sarawak as it being done now. Meanwhile let’s work and pray earnestly for the time, hopefully after 2013, when we can have a more civil and fairer inter-faith dialogue not only on this issue but many others that we see being unjust to us.

As Christians being a party to this dispute what can we do to encourage and harness the goodwill that is inherent in the majority of our fellow Muslims? The answer to this comes from none other than Jesus himself, who demonstrated to the extreme by his Passion, the two greatest virtues of humility and forgiveness. There is no better time than the coming season of Lent, to adopt these two virtues in meaningful dialogue with our “enemy” to bring an end to the dispute.

The dispute over “Allah” has revealed a more matured populace which is paving the way for positive political developments towards greater racial and religious tolerance and a multiracial approach in governance. These changes may be slow but with God’s grace, have definitely begun. We should not sabotage these developments by insisting on our rights prematurely as by doing so we would have to take the blame for the perpetration of racism and religious fanaticism that has plagued Malaysians for over 50 years.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prayer of St. Francis, sung by Angelina, EWTN

Prayer for peace in our nation

Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me bring your love,
Where there is injury your pardon Lord,
And where there’s doubt true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

O Master grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.