The overwhelming generosity shown during the recent flood by so many sections of the national community was truly a heartening sign for those of us grown weary with hearing of the divisiveness and fractious state of Trinbagonian democracy in this part of the 21st century.
Equally heartening was the sense of solidarity and shared grief expressed by wide sections of the public as the country mourned the recent passing of notable figures—icons—from the world of entertainment: Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore, the Mighty Shadow (Winston Bailey) and the ‘Original de Fosto Himself’ (Winston Scarborough).
The Gospel reading of this weekend however, presents us with a critique that Jesus makes regarding the behaviour of prominent religious figures of His time, behaviour that stands in stark contrast to the Catholic vision of a society of well-connected individuals.
Jesus castigates them for their love of ‘show’ or ostentation, their preference for public honour and acclaim: “those who walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats and the places of hour at banquets”.
These are the people He says, who do much damage socially, “they swallow up the property of widows while making a show of lengthy prayers”. In a real sense, their behaviour is anything but ‘social’, and in fact is probably indicative of a certain selfishness and self-absorption.
Our understanding of this text therefore, may not be limited by reading it only as the behaviour of a religious elite. What is evoked before us, in contemporary terms is the behaviour of the so-called ‘one per cent’. The Word of God can therefore lead us into a deeper interrogation of our own social, economic and political reality.
The term ‘one per cent’ has captured the popular imagination and owes the popularity of its current usage to an article by Joseph Stiglitz which criticised income inequality in American society the situation in which one per cent of the US population owned the lion’s share of public wealth.
Very tellingly, Stiglitz made the following observation: “the top one percent have the best homes, the best education…and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money does not seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99% live.”
Trinidadians have also been criticised at times for their lack of social concern. Lloyd Best often stated that Trinbagonians have a mentality that he labelled ‘un-responsible’.
In other words, according to him, “we live here as if we are on holiday”. Simply put, there is a tragic disconnect between many of us and the society of which we are a part. We feel no sense of responsibility for it.
This week, the Church celebrates Vocations Awareness Week and this provides us with an opportune time for us to reflect on the extent to which each of us experiences this sense of connection to the society in which we live or to our religious community, the Church.
We cannot call ourselves practising Catholics while mimicking the behaviour of the ‘one per cent.’ The Church, in her official teaching considers all her members ‘co-responsible’ for her mission.
The laity, all the faithful, even before distinctions into clergy, laity and religious are made members of the One People of God through baptism, the doorway to Christian life.
Through the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, First Eucharist and Confirmation) the laity is incorporated into Christ and into the People of God and receive, directly from the hand of the Lord, the call to mission (3, Apostolicam Actuositatem).
The Church community is never the personal property of the parish priest, since ‘father’ cannot be the Church all by himself. This conciliar teaching is ratified by Pope John Paul II in Christifideles Laici when he writes: “You go too. The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.” (2, CL).
The soil in which vocations flourish therefore is this sense of connectedness to one’s community. It grows where people can say “this community is MINE! I love and care for it!”.
It grows also out of a deep sense of personal calling by Jesus the Lord, the one vine to whom we are also connected, who nourishes all the branches, and without whom we can bear no fruit (John 15:4).