Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christmas wish

If we have one wish for Juan de la Cruz, it is change. One recent Sunday my wife and I attended the noon mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Sofia, Bulgaria. We had few options after missing the English mass, and knew it would be in Latin. While we admired the recently reconstructed church (a casualty of WW II), we knew it would be a struggle to follow the celebration despite our subconscious putting a sprinkling of Latin words in our mouth from those pre-Vatican II days. And on the flight back to New York I happened to read an article about the growing number of churches reverting back to Latin. Didn't we say it was a dead language? But the article tried to provoke: Are Catholics recognizing that Vatican II was a catastrophic mistake?

Indeed the human instinct is resistant to change. Even globally competitive enterprises invested in "managing change" have realized that change, including those from bad to good, brought upheaval. And it holds true in the Vatican as well – where among the cardinals there is dissension too. The debate goes: if the church is committed to engage the "People of God," it ought to keep them truly engaged? How could one ignorant of the language be engaged in the mass, for example, even when the Eucharistic celebration is central to our faith? Blind obedience nurtures subservience, not faith – or character? Moreover, faith and institution are not one and the same? Which explains why despite errant church administrators the faithful remain faithful? Yet there remains a discomfort about change given the changes Vatican II has brought about that many are fearful of? And which is why the curia struggles to address change?

And similarly, the upheaval that accompanies change explains why we struggle to address change even when we acknowledge that we must – or why CCT is such an important piece of the national budget, for instance? And so we want to raise our competitiveness to give us a shot at lifting our economy? And indeed we're doing it in a prudent manner; yet it hasn't spared us of being witness to the ups and downs of our periodic rankings. And thoroughly addressing the individual yardsticks makes sense except that while we are going through our own exercises, other countries are not asleep.

How do we leapfrog our efforts? There must be a bigger or overarching value that we must aspire for not simply to raise our ratings in the various measures? What is the object of the exercise? Economic development is meant to move underdeveloped nations to developed-nation status. Clearly, there is a great distance between the two – and in our case that is at least a generation growing at a constant 7% annually – and thus there is a great chance of being lost along the way. Development like any undertaking demands investment. It is a journey that calls for time, talent and treasure as we know it in our faith journey. But what has been getting in our way?

Oligarchy and political lords both nationally and locally dominate our power structure and given our respect for hierarchy, we unwittingly are aiding and abetting the perpetuation of this sad reality? And have we misunderstood what “inclusive” meant? It is not synonymous to “crab mentality” or we shall keep repeating failings like land reform – which was bound to fail because it was not designed to be sustainable. Land as a resource must generate returns that are healthy in order to create a virtuous circle. It means, beyond distributing land, creating the requisite ecosystem. It is the lesson we learned from the “Parable of the Talents” – i.e., optimizing the returns from our God-given talents and resources means not being confined by boundaries, parochial or whatever else. And the converse, unfortunately, is oligarchic rule. And have we also misunderstood patriotism? Haven't the vulnerabilities inherent in poverty (while we've trampled on the environment) in fact exposed us to more and greater risks?

These are indeed great obstacles yet we have the God-given human spirit to rise above them. The challenge is for Juan de la Cruz to respond accordingly. And thus our wish is change and . . . a blessed Christmas and New Year to one and all!

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