Heart – a word that is so important to human flourishing. It connotes many things – love, romance, forgiveness, community, grit, determination, sorrow, longing and hope. We heard of it in this morning’s gospel
– “it is only the Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). And today we hear heart again – “Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.”
What do we ponder in our hearts today, like Mary? I will tell you what I ponder.
I ponder on the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is to a large extent an unjust country, this so in spite of our numerous world class scholars and scholarship winners over decades, a billion dollar economy, a significant middle class population and a highly technical media.
There is under the lime and laughter a thick layer of resentment and anger due significantly to prejudice given to class and status. The way things play out it gives the impression that one life in certain parts of the country is worth than ten lives from most other parts of the country. especially places like Laventille, Sea Lots and Beetham. Some areas of the country are regarded as the Immaculate Conception – conceived without sin, while others are presumed to be littered with it. Access to crime solution and arrest, to water, unclogged drains, proper roads, protection from landslides and gaping holes vary according to who you are, where you live and who knows who. How you are spoken to in many sectors of government and private sector depends on how you look, what car you drive and how deep your pocket is.
It is hard to see in the face of this, if left unchecked, we do not follow the state of civil unrest now consuming Hong Kong, Chile, Equador, India and other places. The man in the street who is found guilty of a crime, often not very serious, is exposed in the dailies with all the grim or juicy details, while the elite offender is spared the public embarrassment of the daily press.
There has been little effort to deal with this sore by successive governments which accounts for low voter turnout in elections, especially among the young. There has been little challenge from the religions as well. Is it any surprise then that prisoners, and not the elite, like the shepherds – the excluded and contemptuous lot of Jewish society – were among the real beneficiaries of
Christmas blessings this year, as they got a second lease on life with the decriminalization of marijuana up to a certain quantum? These were the ones the angels visited this year to announce the good news: “Emmanuel – God Is With You!” These petty criminals are the bad boys of society that get caught while the bigger crooks have to be caught, or at least frustrated, by more sophisticated methods, like new polymer $100 dollar bills.
Unless state, religion and private sector combined with robust policing make concerted efforts to reduce the chasm of injustice felt daily in our society a serious social unrest may not be far from our radar. The poor and disenfranchised need to be listened to and helped and be shown also how to help themselves and take control of their lives. They must be allowed a space for their voice to be heard and their grievances addressed and pulled out of that dark hole of social determinism.
I also ponder in my heart the seeming inability of my Church to move hearts. This is a serious indictment on our religion. Business executive and devout Catholic Chris Lowney in his book “Everybody Leads” notes that 13% of Americans regard themselves as “former Catholics”. This amounts to about 40 million people. A section of these Catholics now worship at other churches and 71% of these say they left the Catholic Church because their spiritual needs are not being met. This is a heck of an indictment. What on earth is the Church here for but to meet the spiritual needs of people?
In our own context, between 2007 and 2017, our Catholic worshipping population on weekends has declined from 17% on weekends to 14%. This means about 39,900 Catholics go to Mass on weekends out of a population of 285,000. At 62 parishes this works out to be 643 persons per parish, bearing in mind a parish comprises several communities. Our own parish was 750 persons, taken in Lent mind you. The Archbishop has been pondering this data in his heart and would be content if in his tenure he can at least stem further decline. This is why the archdiocese has produced its Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan with its six pillars of Parish, Catholic Education, Leadership, Youth, Clergy and Vocations and Family Life. So far our energies have been on Parish with a focus on Hospitality, Homilies and Hymns. We have only just begun and we the clergy ask your prayers for this agenda for 2020.
Let me also add that I think we are obligated now to learn from best practices from our Evangelical brothers and sisters. The moving of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ from the heart of South Quay to Duncan Street is for me a prophetic sign. This Church is now one block away from the Cathedral, close to the taxi routes to Laventille, Sea Lots and Beetham, where many of our Catholics reside. If we do not make a serious effort to keep them the Universal Church will and we will have only ourselves to blame.
The hallmarks of Pope Francis’ leadership are joy and mercy. We need to fill our Church and our hearts with more of that joy and mercy. We need to keep the windows of our cars down as we drive off after Mass, say hello to others and offer the needy a lift, not waiting for them to ask. We need to open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of Jesus and find the sheep wherever they have strayed.
A third concern I ponder in my heart is the abandonment of the elderly. Pope Francis said some time ago the two most frustrated groups in the world are the young who cannot find work and the elderly who languish in loneliness. Sometimes families are forced to leave their parents in seniors care facilities. On many occasions it is necessary and inevitable and children do so with a heavy heart and with many tears. Sometimes it is done also prematurely or even without good reason. Sometimes we just don’t want them around.
In the book of Ecclesiasticus we read on the Feast of the Holy Family celebrated last Sunday: “For kindness to parents would not be forgotten but serve as a reparation for your sins.” Too many parents and grandparents are forgotten causing one grandmother to say to me: “Fadder, tell dem grandchildren they must remember and show love to their grandmother always and not only when the pension cheque come.”
Listen to these words of a mother/grandmother: [Read Abby column]
May we remember those who loved us and nurtured us and be open to the deep wisdom of their years. May we see the elderly as the trunk of the tree of which we are the fruits.
What can I say on the positive side for this is above all New Year 2020.