Seeing the Big Picture in Giving
In this adapted extract of Archbishop William Goh’s homily at the CHARIS Humanitarian Forum & Fair on 10 June 2017, Catholics and the various organisations in the archdiocese are urged to see that we are one Church with one mission.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this world is really ironical. The dignity of the human person is something that the Church has always championed, even until today. Every person is unique, is an individual, irreplaceable.
This is one of the important social teachings of the Church, alongside another important social teaching—freedom. That every person is called to freedom. These are actually Christian Catholic values which the west has picked up.
Unfortunately, the dignity of the individual has been over-accentuated, at the expense of the community. And the freedom of the individual, at the expense of the greater good of the community. This is the reason why, today we have a situation where people are very individualistic. It is about themselves, their needs, their wants, and never about others.
The poor around us
These tensions between the individual and the community exist not just in our own personal dimensions of life, but also in the global arena, as well as within the Church.
In the local archdiocese, we have CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore) and Caritas Singapore. CHARIS is for humanitarian aid, to help those people in need overseas, while Caritas attends to the local needs of the people. In itself, this is also a tension.
Should we help the poor people in Singapore? I know many who would wake up at 11 am on purpose, have a late lunch at 2 or 3 o’clock, just so they can skip dinner. If you talk about the poor in Singapore, there are many.
But what about the poor overseas? Should we help our local people first, or should we send aid overseas?
The dioceses in the Church
For me as a bishop, I am also faced with this tension. You know that the Singapore archdiocese is in dire need of funds. We need more than 200 million dollars to finance our operations and infrastructure to build up a more vibrant, missionary and evangelistic Church over the next seven years.
But as a bishop, I am not just bishop of Singapore, but also a bishop in communion with the rest of the bishops in the world. We are a college of bishops. The bishop of Singapore must not only attend to the needs of the local church; he also has a duty towards the other churches of the world, especially those who are poorer.
Every time I go for an international meeting, priests from the many dioceses that are much poorer than Singapore, turn to me for help.
Should I say no to them because our own archdiocese is struggling to meet our own expenditure? I have an obligation both towards the archdiocese, and the other dioceses. I have to put aside some money to help those overseas.
Never too poor to give
I want to share a story of Mother Teresa that has inspired me a lot.
One day, Mother Teresa went to visit a very poor family comprising a mother and six children. She brought two bags of rice and gave them to this family. While Mother Teresa was talking to the children, the mother disappeared. She returned 15 minutes later, and Mother Teresa asked, “Where were you? What happened?”.
The woman said, “Sister, you gave me two bags of rice, and I remembered that down the road, there is another big family which has been without food. So, I gave them the other bag of rice.”
My brothers and sisters, we are never too poor to give. There will always be someone who is in greater need than us. If you think you are poor, that might be true compared to someone who is richer. But there will always be those who are poorer than you.
Basis of giving
The basis of assistance to those who are needy is rooted in the very fact that the God we worship is a God of compassion. For the faithful, our attitudes towards those who are suffering is not simply based on human sympathy, but more. It is that this God we worship is a God of compassion, and we are called to live out the compassion of God.
For us as Catholics, we are asked to go further. When we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity, we are saying that God is one and yet three, one being, and three relations. You cannot speak of the Father without the Son.
For a human person, we are not exactly like God. We are unique individuals, yet social beings. As unique individuals, it is possible to live by yourself – although your life may not be complete. But we are also social beings. And that is the beauty of the human person. It is the relationships that give us meaning and purpose in life. It is because we are different, that we can be for each other.
Mutual giving and receiving
It is good for us to realise this. Whether we are givers, facilitators, or recipients, all of us are one together. If God has given us things, it is always for the service of others. It is when we continue to give ourselves to others, that we receive joy.
We will make the world a happier place if all of us, according to the talents and resources the Lord has given us, share them and use them well together. This is unity in diversity.
In helping the poor, those who need our services, the joy you receive is incomparable to what the money and time given could have been spent on instead. There is mutual giving and mutual receiving.
I feel sad for the Church when I see divisions and narrow mindedness. We are one Church, we have one mission. Every organisation, every affiliate body, is important. Each has its own role. But when we become parochial minded, when it becomes only about “my organisation”, instead of the people we are called to help, we have lost our focus.
Of course, those of you who are in the various organisations, you must certainly champion your own organisation. But champion, never at the expense of the bigger picture.
And so, I pray that as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity, all of you who are involved with various Catholic organisations, let us work together as one, just as the Father and the Son, one in mission, one in love. Amen.