Fr Shay Cullen offers some challenging New Year’s thoughts

Dec 31, 2019

Columban missionary Fr Shay Cullen founded the PREDA Foundation in the Philippines in 1974 to promote and protect the dignity and the human rights of the Filipino people, especially of women and sexually-exploited and abused children.

There will be much rejoicing and merriment at the arrival of the New Year because people see it as a chance for a new start, to move on with hope and determination to pursue their personal goals and to worship their particular “god” or “idol.”

That “God” is whatever they place as their number one, the most important person or thing or desire that directs their lives day by day.

Who or what is it for you and me?

Be it the pursuit of money, power, pleasure, prosperity or relationships. We all choose our idols, our “Gods” that will dominate our feelings, thoughts and motivate us to action in the New Year and perhaps the rest of our lives, miserable or joyful as they may be.

Some have higher aspirations and aspire to be peace-makers, human rights defenders, child protectors, life savers. These people want to have lives of integrity and do good in this world serving and helping others.

Where can they find a new start, positive strong motivation to aspire to the highest ideals and through them find meaningful living and happiness? There are many who expect it from organised religion. The institutional church is failing to provide that guiding light of inspiration to youth and people seeking a life of service, dedication and self-sacrifice.

Few bishops speak out in the defence of life and human dignity as bodies pile up. Only five bishops have earned the honour, privilege and distinction as true followers of Jesus of Nazareth to be falsely accused like Jesus of Nazareth for challenging and speaking out against the world of evil. We have just celebrated His birthday, now we ought to follow His example.

While the rich plunder the economy with impunity and sub-human poverty stalks the land and festers in the slums and depravity and child abuse grows in the sex bars where children are raped and enslaved, the institutional Church is mostly silent and inactive to combat child abuse and the jailing of children.

Many religious leaders like corrupt politicians are mired in money-making schemes and immorality. They live in fear of the blinding light to the truth where they will be exposed and held accountable.

The institutional Church has forgotten the words and example of the Man from Nazareth, how he lived for others and risked his life for them. Institutionalised religion has lost the true spirit of seeking justice and exposing the truth.

It has sadly developed a more or less purely sacramental religion based on endless rites and rituals that are so routine that they seem like a magical performance without explanation or meaning and proclaimed to deliver boundless spiritual rewards for doing nothing.

The people participate because it is tradition while apathy and indifference rule. Few who go to the churches are inspired or encouraged to act for justice or are driven by the spirit of action for justice, human rights, and compassion.

Few speak against terrible evils. Blessed are the few that do. They share his values, his friendship, words and his actions. They have the power to inspire and lead us the truth. Our faith is in him and in his words and actions.

Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, a teacher, a leader yet a poor man. His father was a carpenter. He was born in a hovel with animals in poverty. He knew it all too well. He had no status in life, no formal education, no property and had no influence whatsoever until he began to teach that everyone should be equal, and poverty was not a punishment from God but from greed and it should end.

He taught that employers must pay just wages and he called on the rich to repent and change and give social justice to the poor in a just, equal, free society. He embraced all and he welcomed people of nation, every background, colour and belief. No one was excluded from his friendship and family. To be good is to be with him, and to be with him is to be part of eternal goodness.

He taught us to have life in abundance, not death. He was a man of peace and kindness. He loved justice and gave his friendship to all who would be his friend. A life of the spirit, he said, would endure beyond the grave. Love would live forever.

He invited his followers to share a meal of friendship and he washed their feet as would a servant. He taught anyone who would listen that women and children had equal rights as the men. All walked the earth as children of God as one in the human family. All are created equal, he said, and we share the same human dignity. He challenged those who created inequality and social injustice.

His message is especially for the poor, the outcasts and migrants, refugees, the homeless. He challenged us to keep the earth peaceful, clean and sustainable. That call of Jesus of Nazareth – to change society – was not welcome among the powerful and the rich.

The idea of equality of persons threatened and challenged those in power as it does today coming from his true disciples. The truth will challenge and trouble the powerful.

The powerful rulers could not accept the truth or his honest criticism and challenge. They conspired and made false accusations and they gave him the death penalty. He was killed because he rejected the culture of death and evil and his condemnation of it.

He did not remain silent, did not look away from the murders, injustice, the oppression, the poverty and hypocrisy. His mission was the start of the great transformation of the world where justice and truth reigns and we can all be a part of it.

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