WHETHER we scan the local scene or the global environment, it is difficult not to feel that many of the institutions which have defined civilisation in the last century are under attack or are crumbling before our eyes.
The clerical abuse scandal has shaken our Church to its core, reaching to the highest levels, archbishops and cardinals, those towering figures in the magisterium who have been found sadly wanting. The Pope has summoned a meeting of bishops to address this crisis.
The high regard we may have had for the president of the United States as the world’s most powerful nation and defender of democracy has declined in the face of the presidency of Donald Trump which is upending cherished values of truth, rectitude, and restraint. The world struggles to reconcile the values reflected in the Statue of Liberty with the building of a wall on the border with Mexico.
Elsewhere we are witnessing autocratic regimes, left wing and right wing, in Venezuela, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, fostering social discord instead of harmony.
We see the British, confused by the Brexit decision which was driven in part by deepening English concern over immigration, stumbling toward a crisis which may see Northern Ireland once again in turmoil and Scotland contemplating independence.
We watch with growing concern the agitation and violence of the ‘gilets jaunes’ in France, and the rise of nationalist parties in Germany and Italy.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, gang warfare sustains our high murder rate, refugees from Venezuela flood in, while criminals prey on their misfortune. The Judiciary, the Police, the office of the DPP, the Licensing Office, every institution seems to be misfiring. As elections, local and general, draw closer, the racial rhetoric is intensifying.
How then do we as Catholic Christians respond to these developments? First, it is important to put all these developments in historical perspective. We need to appreciate history, including Church history.
The Church has gone through crises before, healed its wounds, and emerged to continue as a force for the moral good of societies and for individual salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The world has seen local conflicts and global wars which have killed millions, and yet societies have emerged, reset themselves and resumed progress. This should inspire hope that we too will find our way through the crises of our time, including the existential crisis of global climate change.
Resetting is not a passive process of allowing events to unfold; rather it requires our personal, purposive intervention using whatever gifts we have been given to make a difference in myriad ways, big and small.
Second, as we engage with those opposed to us, we have to love our enemies! This puzzling injunction does not mean accepting or condoning the wrongdoings of the human trafficker or the drug lord. Indeed the expression of our love for them would be to arrest and, after due process, remove them from society and then to rehabilitate them to be worthy contributing members of our community.
In the same way, the wrongful conduct of abusive priests and bishops must be punished. As every parent knows, discipline and sometimes punishment are not inconsistent with love for our children but fulsome expressions of that love when done correctly, proportionately, and justly.
Finally, we have to prepare ourselves spiritually to cope with the confusion, the anxiety and the psychological dissonance which conflict creates. We can take the easy path, abandon our principles and values, and align ourselves with whatever side we think will ‘win’.
Or we can prepare ourselves for the martyrdom and the sacrifices which a principled life demand. What is most helpful here are prayer (dialogue with God) and dialogue with other right-thinking persons who can help to keep us centred.