NATIONAL DAY MESSAGE 2020
In the light of safeguarding the well-being of everyone in the community during these Covid-19 times, the world speaks of a New Normal that must be observed by everyone. What is this New Normal? This includes social and physical distancing in public places, the donning of masks, working from home as much as possible, avoiding crowds and gathering unnecessarily, and using Digital and Social Media tools to communicate. People have to maintain good personal hygiene, washing and sanitising their hands regularly at home, in public places and in workplaces.
Yet, we must also be cognisant that not all the practices of this New Normal are meant to be normal after Covid-19. Otherwise, this New Normal mind-set of physical and social distancing might become so ingrained in us that we think it is the normal way to live life. This will be disastrous, not just for the individual but for society as a whole. The ramifications of this way of life, if entrenched, would have dire consequences for community-building. That is why the New Normal is not normal. It is only temporary in some ways until a vaccine is found.
The fear of this New Normal finding its foothold in our daily living post Covid-19 is founded on two fundamental realities of life. Firstly, man is not just an individual. Indeed, the physical and social distancing particularly, will result in an individual all cooped up within himself. He becomes very individualistic, isolated from others, inward-looking and alienated from the community. When that happens, he begins to live for himself. He sees the world through the narrow lenses of his limited insights and life-experiences. He can become so detached from everyone that he begins to retreat into his own little world. The truth is that we are also social beings. No man is an island. We belong to a people. We are interdependent, not just within our community but with the rest of the world. In an age of globalisation, we are even more connected with the rest of the world, and if one catastrophe happens, we will all be affected.
Secondly, man is not just constituted of a soul but he is also body. We are not pure spirits. Ironically, this is what the world knows and is saying. In fact, there are some who claim that we are pure material being, without a soul or spirit. If that were the case, then as human beings, all the more we need to feel, touch, hear and see, so that we can be connected with life. So when we cannot have a physical relationship with our fellowmen, if we cannot see them or talk to them in person, hold their hands, give them a hug or a sign of love, we will soon become dehumanised. We will lose the emotional bonding, simply because we sense our belonging not just through sounds but also through touch as well. If we are not careful, we can become so cold and distant that we lose our positive attachment to each other, and soon we also become less loving, caring and feeling for each other. Indeed, if we only communicate through technology we risk becoming depersonalised. As is already happening even before Covid-19, we hide behind pseudonyms and say the most hurtful things to one another without constraint, simply because we do not see and hear or feel the other person’s reaction when we write. We become distant, aloof, unfeeling and easily misunderstand each other.
Indeed, dehumanisation and individualism are the most dangerous consequences of the New Normal of social and physical distancing. It will destroy humanity, family and society. How can there be a nation to celebrate National Day if there are no stable families or communities within the nation? Nation presumes that we are a people united in the same vision and mission for everyone who is part of that nation. What is nation-building if not the building of the people, becoming more and more united as one people regardless of race, language and religion, sharing common values, a common identity and future? Only as a people living together in equality can we speak of making progress together, growing in prosperity. This is why in spite of Covid-19, the country must still celebrate our nationhood, otherwise we will become more and more individualistic or inward-looking, each caring for his or her own interests and not that of the larger community, our nation. Truly, why do we hold the National Day Parade, if not for the fact that we need to see, to feel, to hear, to have our hearts beat together as one, so that we can be one people in all that we do and grow together as a nation.
What is true for the nation is even and more so for the Church. The Church is not a building, nor a temple just for people to come for private worship. The Church is the People of God, gathered together as an assembly, a community to worship God together and to live a common life based on the gospel teachings of Christ, reaching out to each other, caring for one another and sharing faith with each other. Through Christian fellowship in worship, in leadership, in service and in love, we are strengthened to reach out to the larger community, giving our lives for the service not just of the People of God but for the nation in self-sacrifice and selflessness.
This is why during this Covid-19, because of physical and social distancing to protect the safety of everyone, our gatherings are restricted just to our family and household, and virtual encounters with the Christian community through Zoom programs or webinars. Most of all, the greatest and highest summit of our faith, which is the Eucharistic Celebration, is also done virtually through on-line streaming of Masses. However, such online services, whilst benefiting many people during this time of Circuit-Breaker, remain a secondary means of encountering the fullness of God.
This is because the Church is not just a community of believers, members of the body of Christ, but also a sacramental Church. Jesus became man so that we can encounter God through His humanity, and through incarnational means, namely, matter and the use of things, gestures and signs. Regardless of the benefits that come from online Masses, we can never replace the personal, sacramental and communitarian aspects of encountering the Lord in His body, the Church, and in the Holy Eucharist itself. The Church is a sacrament, a visible sign of the unity of the Body of Christ and a call to everyone to share in our union with God and with each other.
This is why, with the constraints imposed on what can and cannot be done at Mass under the present Phase of the Circuit-Breaker relaxation, the Mass is a far cry from what true worship should be. Without exuberant and passionate singing, without fellowship after Mass, without a proper homily even with Holy Communion, the Mass has been reduced to a sacramental worship. Without a real engagement and encounter with the Lord, the Mass becomes another ritual that is less than a real celebration of worship. Whilst it is better than nothing, it means the worshipper must consciously prepare himself or herself well for the Mass, otherwise it will be a perfunctory exercise.
Hence, from this Covid-19, we have come to realise more than ever that we are all one people, regardless of who we are, whatever strata of society or profession we belong to. We are indeed truly not just individuals but communitarian, not just pure spirit but body. Realising this, it means we must also take good care of our migrant workers and those essential workers that are not properly recognised for their services. We must appreciate that all of us are important to each other. Whilst the recovery of the economy is important to provide jobs and food for our people, man does not live on bread alone. We also have emotional and spiritual needs. Indeed, with physical distancing and constraints in religious worship and gatherings, many of us are emotionally, socially, affectively and spiritually starved. Indeed, we must never think that religion is a non-essential need of human beings. A strong and peaceful interior that comes from God allows citizens to be able to face challenges in life, especially during these trying times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
May we become a more united people in love, charity and compassion. Happy 55th National Day! May God bless our nation, our leaders and our people with wisdom and generosity.