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An Emancipation vision

By Fr Stephan Alexander
Parish of St Martin de Porres, Coryal

For many of us, the challenge of transcending the chasm between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus Himself can seem illusory. For others, this distinction does not arise—a reality that is painfully apparent in the thoughts, words, actions and conduct of a great majority of our society.

This ‘majority’ ironically is exceptionally inclusive. It shows no prejudice to anyone, not even to Christians, as we—followers of the Christ—often find ourselves caught up in ways that demonstrate our ‘great knowledge’ of Jesus while simultaneously making decisions that show the lack of His influence on our lives.

Some might wonder, what is the distinction I allude to as this may be the first occasion of challenge to a conscious understanding of the Christ and the fact that understanding itself does not automatically lead to intimacy with Jesus.

This is a fact that I often point out during preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism. Namely, that the presence of the Holy Spirit at Baptism blesses catechumens with the capacity to believe but does not create an “explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ”1.

This attachment or relationship with Jesus occurs when we open ourselves to being encountered by the Christ and transformed by Him during the process of discovering who He is and who we are2.

The above might seem arbitrary or unconventional as the starting point of an editorial dedicated to the commemoration of Emancipation in Trinidad and Tobago. However, the need for increased intimacy with Jesus is where I’ve been guided in my reflection concerning this and other similar topics.

In a recent presentation entitled ‘50 years on from Black Power, Do black lives still matter?’, which I delivered at a virtual forum hosted by the Conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today [CTCT]3, I reflected on certain challenging words of Jesus as presented in chapter thirteen of Matthew’s account of the gospel: “… seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand” (Matt 13:134).

As you would imagine from the tenor of the earlier paragraphs, my reflections5 revealed a connection between the blindness, deafness and lack of understanding identified in Matthew’s Gospel and a lack of intimacy with Jesus Christ.

As the Church has always taught, intimate relationship with the Christ allows us to perceive the image of God in ourselves and the other. As we contemplate God’s incredible love for us it is impossible not to consider God’s love for the other. To the extent that we fail to be connected to Jesus, we continue to lack the necessary spiritual, moral and mental capacity to comprehend the truth of our humanity.

It is therefore unsurprising that on the occasion of celebrating another anniversary of Emancipation and 50 years on from ‘Black Power’, contemporary Trinbago is forced to consider the continued existence of racism and other forms of discrimination towards persons of African heritage.

This is still an unfortunate reality prevalent in many of our social structures and ‘sometimes’ our individual relationships.

Current election campaigns, which have exposed politicians’ pandering to ‘their tribe’ and necessitated that they distinguish between racist behaviour and race-baiting do little to convince that the ultimate vision of emancipation will soon be realised.

Matthew’s Gospel, however, offers hope. The evangelist encourages intimacy with Jesus and demonstrates Jesus’ patience with the disciples.

As Christians, we know that hope comes from God and so we hope that this year’s commemoration births a divinely inspired newness in our country that changes the way we treat with these realities. As citizens, let us intentionally cooperate with God to bring about this ‘newness’ as we consider the value of our salvation6. May God guide us in all that we do.

Happy Emancipation 2020!

1Page 46, Weddell Sherry A, Forming Intentional Disciples (2012)

2Gaudium et Spes (1965) paragraph 22 indicates that “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear”.

3CTCT Virtual Forum, ‘Black Lives Matter: Caribbean Theological Perspectives’ was held on July 16, 2020.

4Indeed, Matthew’s discourse on the parables of Jesus, which we’ve traversed in our weekend liturgy from the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time to the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, has proved a great source of challenge and inspiration.

5My reflections are always undertaken in view of our contemporary societal circumstances.

6Matthew 13:44-46