Monday, June 8, 2020

Is there a Catholic privilege that we aren’t aware of as Catholics?

Racism has unveiled its ugly head once more in the light of the very unnecessary and cruel death of a Mr. George Floyd in Minnesota, USA.  This has sparked off an avalanche of riots, protests and marches in just about every state in America.  In some places, this has even resulted in looting and property being set on fire, tainting the face of America, supposedly a leader in the free world.

In the wake of this reaction, terms like white privilege or white advantage have been thrown in the fire of the debate, with even the white people saying that they are ashamed of or uncomfortable with the kind of privilege or in-born security they have over their non-white fellow Americans.  Of course, not all white people would feel the same way.

Here in Singapore, halfway round the world, there is undoubtedly and undeniably a racial mix.  Although Singapore’s indigenous people were not Chinese, it has come to pass that now, citizens of Chinese ethnicity make up about 75% of the total population.  Just by numbers alone, it is not wrong therefore to say that there is a certain Chinese security or Chinese privilege that those who are Chinese enjoy in this tiny island republic.   Thankfully, the leaders of this country have always deemed crucial that there is cohesion and harmony as far as living with the other races is concerned.  

All the reaction that the murder of George Floyd has led to set me thinking about those of us who are Catholics, and it has nothing to do with the Chinese being Catholics, or any other races or ethnicities being Catholic, but simply about us Catholics being Catholics. Are we aware that Catholicism gives us certain privileges over those who are not Catholics?  

As Catholics, whether we were baptized as infants or whether we are converts later on life, how aware or sensitive have we been to how our faith actually does give us certain advantages that others do not enjoy?

Now I know that this reflection can go very wrong from here on, and I want to make it clear that it is not in any shape or form meant to be a criticism or attack on those who are not Catholics. Rather, the aim of this reflection is to help Catholics to identify and appreciate, maybe in a new way, why and how being Catholic has its amazing privileges in and of itself, and more importantly, how realizing it anew really has the power to give new zest in your Catholic life, which will then benefit society as well.

The advantage or privilege that I am referring to has nothing to do with things like being able to get your child into a Catholic school, or being able to purchase a niche to place the cremated remains of your loved ones in a Catholic columbarium in a parish church. I would just call these as being somewhat ancillary to the core of what it is to be Catholic.

Rather, I am referring to the following privileges (this list is in no way exhaustive):

1.  It gives us a divine identity.
Every Catholic is more than just a son or daughter of human parents.  Every baptized person has a dignity and self-esteem that way surpasses any human family can give, because one is an adopted and beloved child of God, the creator of the universe and all that it holds.  When we live this to the full, we can become the saints that all of us are ultimately called to be.  As well, this divine identity gives us the greatest validation that we can ever hope to have, and if we live in the awareness of this every day of our lives, we will not have any reason to feel insecure and as a result, seek validation in things, titles and people.  This has often created pathologies in many lives, as many counsellors and therapists will easily tell you.

2.   It gives our lives a goal and aim that is truly out of this world.
With life in heaven as our ultimate goal, it raises the bar for Catholics.  It means that any earthly goals are not ends in themselves, but means through which that heavenly goal can be attained.  It gives us a supernatural reason to be our best selves in every sphere of life, because each time we put in effort to be the best we can be, we are in fact grooming ourselves and readying ourselves for that heavenly self that God wants us to be.

3.   I don’t have to go through life’s challenges alone. 
As a Catholic, I am keenly aware that I have the tremendous privilege of having the intercessory help of the saints who line the halls of the heavenly banquet.  This enables me to face all the trials and turmoil of this life with the knowledge that I don’t do this alone.  I have not only the prayers of the saints, but also the example of their lives to count on.  

4.   I have a heavenly mother who loves me more than my earthly mother.
All Catholics have the great privilege of having Mary as our heavenly mother who loves us in ways that are purer than our earthly mothers.  Having this privilege puts me in a great advantage in life because the time will come when we will outlive our earthly mothers who we know love us, and who we love dearly.  But when death comes to separate us, we will always have the blessed assurance of Mary’s undying and universal motherhood to count on.

5.   God feeds my body with his body.
As a Catholic I have the inestimable privilege of being present at the sacred event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ whenever I am at Mass, and to be able to receive Holy Communion, which is truly the Body and Blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ, who is God.  Aware of this truth is what gives me the confidence to live in grace and have a true experience of how deeply my God loves me.  St Faustina is quoted as having said that if angels were capable of envy, they would envy us humans for being able to receive Holy Communion.  This privilege has been far too under-appreciated by many, and sadly, this includes many Catholics as well.

6.   I have a unique way to face the problems and sufferings of life.
When faced with trials and troubles in life, most people will find ways to escape from them, or do all they can to solve them.  While they are not wrong, sometimes we are simply unable to deal with them in these two ways.  The Catholic advantage here is that we believe that such afflictions are a valuable resource that can be offered up for the kingdom of God.  We are very comfortable with terms like ‘sacrifice’ and ‘mortification’ because inherent in our doctrines is the belief that we do not live only for ourselves, but that our purpose in life is to glorify God. This glorification of God can take place in so many ways, one of which is when we live altruistic and generous lives. This enables us to undertake the hardships that we have in life with a purpose that is higher than ourselves, so long as we do it with love.  The pains that we bear with an inner joy enable us to become the spiritual benefactors of souls in need of salvation.

7.   I am never alone in life, and I live not just for myself.
There is an instinctive solidarity that I have as a baptized son or daughter of God with another who shares this same dignity.  It is an expansion of what is called the mystical Body of Christ, which isn’t just something that holds true for this moment of time, but the past and the future as well.  As well, because of this truth, I am moved to live with greater compassion and generosity for others because I truly have good reason to believe that those who share my same faith are truly my brother and sister, disregarding completely their ethnic and racial difference.  

8.   Catholics who marry Catholics have a joint mission for the world and for each other.
When Catholics have Catholic spouses, their marriage is a sacrament.  Essentially, this means that they have a unique ability to be a living sign of God’s love to the world around them (their joint mission).  They are able to do this because of the special grace that a sacramental marriage provides them with.

They are also the benefactors to each other because their marriage is to be the workshop where they shape and mould each other to become their best selves in this world, readying each other for heaven.  Each spouse becomes a saint-maker for each other in their marriage.  They do this by putting in effort to live out the many challenges of ordinary married life – being faithful, honouring one another, putting the other first in life, being forgiving when wronged, becoming humbled and holy each slow day by each slow day, practicing all the virtues that make for a harmonious and life-giving marriage and family life.  

9.   Catholic privilege is enjoyed whenever a sacrament is celebrated in the life of the Catholic.
All of the seven sacraments bestow on the Catholic unmerited graces that come from the bounty of God’s goodness, but of particular need in the spiritual life is the sacramental grace of forgiveness that comes whenever the Catholic goes for confession.  He has the blessed assurance that his sins that he confesses with a contrite heart are truly forgiven by God, and is reinstated to a state of grace.  There is no peace that the world can give that even comes close to this, because there is an inner healing that takes place as well.  

I am certain that there are many other ways that a Catholic enjoys “Catholic privilege”.  And here is where this privilege is distinctively different from “white privilege”, "black privilege", "Chinese privilege", "Indian, Malay, Eurasian privilege" or whatever other privilege that is based on ethnicity or race .  

Though there are ways in which those who have such privileges can and should do something good for society by fighting for justice and equality, one still cannot share or give this away, simply because it is quite literally attached to the colour of one’s skin that one was born with.  So it somehow still remains a “colour-related or race-related privilege”.  But this doesn’t apply to the Catholic privilege in anyway whatsoever.

St Paul makes it clear in Gal.3:28 that for all who are baptized into Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The aim of the Catholic privilege is to let others know that all this can be theirs as well, and that is what mission is all about.  The word privilege itself means that it is not something earned, but inherited.  We have been given an inheritance of inestimable value to be baptized Catholics, and it is our task to bring others to share in this inheritance as well.  

Inheritances are only as valuable as they are recognized and held as valuable.  Stories abound where there have been families who had treasures worth millions of dollars in their dusty storerooms all the while, but this was simply unknown to them because they hadn’t bothered to find out what they had. We must not let this happen to our rich inheritance as Catholics.  

Perhaps one reason why Catholics are notoriously slow and reticent in being missionary in their faith is because they have only a modicum of what riches they have been given by God and by the Church.

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