Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Virgin, Martyr
National Day of Singapore
(Note: There is also an optional set of proper readings for National Day)
The readings today invite us to reflect upon an important tension in our faith. The tension is expressed especially in Jesus’ responses to the Canaanite woman. Initially, Jesus says: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Yet he also eventually grants the woman’s request. At first, Jesus emphasizes his mission to the particular people of Israel. But, impressed and persuaded by the urgency of the woman’s need and the strength of her faith, Jesus also opens himself to the universal scope of his coming.
It is important to keep in mind this tension between the universal and the particular when we listen to the other readings today. In the first reading, when God says: they shall be my people, who is God referring to? Will God only look after all the clans of Israel to the exclusion of all other peoples? And, in the response to the psalm, when we declare that the Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock, who do we mean by us? Who is the object of God’s care? Will the Lord only shepherd baptized Christians to the exclusion of people of other faiths and none? Is it not also written that God wishes all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (see 1 Timothy 2:4)?
This tension – between the universal and the particular – is an important one to maintain. Trouble starts if we overemphasize one at the expense of the other. For example, on this day when we remember Edith Stein – who died in a Nazi concentration camp – we are reminded of the horrible fruit of the Nazis’ belief in the superiority of the Aryan race over all others. And do we not continue to see the effects of the neglect of the universal in the Middle East today?
On the other hand, neither can we afford to neglect the particular. We are finite human beings with limited resources. We can, for example, only be in one place at any given time. Even if we are to cultivate a love that is open to all, we cannot but set priorities to how this love is expressed, as Jesus does in the gospel. More importantly, there is also the danger of claiming to have a universal love without actually loving any particular person. One is reminded of what a character from the Peanuts comic strip says: I love humanity. It’s my neighbour I can’t stand.
As we Singaporeans celebrate another National Day, we might fruitfully reflect upon the importance of maintaining this tension in our lives as citizens. Even as we proudly celebrate our achievements and dedicate ourselves to continue building up our families, our communities, and our nation, do we not also need to consider how we are being called to contribute to the well-being of other families and communities, other nations and peoples?
A happy National Day to all!