By Father Scott Giuliani, SOLT
As September comes again, it is a wonderful time for a nation to call to mind its many blessings, and give thanks to God! It is a great month to pray our Belizean prayer, which begins, “Almighty and Eternal God, who through Jesus Christ has revealed Your Glory to all nations, please protect and preserve Belize, our beloved country….” It is also an opportune time to examine our national conscience and ask if we are fulfilling our national destiny to glorify God while reflecting on this year’s theme, “From Maya Grandeur to Modern Glory, Together Let’s Shape the Belizean Story.”
The poetic phrase encourages Belizeans to tell and remember the story of the nation this September. This is an incredibly important task since from our national memory comes a national identity, and the strength to shape its story. Storytelling is an art that requires wisdom and creativity. Wisdom is necessary since the story must embody the truth, and communicate this eternal truth to the next generation that often shares new experiences and ideals. Creativity is essential since the story must capture the attention of the listeners, and inspire them to contribute their part to a story greater than themselves. So, what is the Belizean story? Well…it depends who is telling it.
The September mantra this year is creative but remains open for the storyteller to imbue the wisdom from above so the full grandeur of the story can radiate in all its glory, and not be reduced to an opportunity to make money or another excuse to over-indulge. The theme implies the story goes from Mayan civilization to modern times. So what part of the story do we tell? How we choose to tell the past will affect how we shape the story for the future. One can speak of the resourcefulness, rich culture, and the stewardship of creation of the ancient Maya to the progress in education, independence and technology of modern times, or another storyteller may justifiably speak of human sacrifices, and tribal warfare to the political corruption, pollution of rivers and daylight murders on the modern streets of Belize City. Which one speaks the truth? There is a tendency to pick and choose what part of the history of Belize, and therefore, the identity they want to promote and celebrate. Whatever story ends up being told this September, one thing is for certain, we need Jesus Christ to truly know who we are as a nation. Given the significant Christian influence, Belize will never understand itself without Jesus Christ and his Gospel. In its unique identity, Belize can only be properly recognized in the light of Christ. Without Christianity, Belize makes no sense. The founder of the nation was a daily communicant. Both Hon. George Price, Hon. Philip Goldson, and many other heroes of the nation received formation on Catholic Social teaching by Jesuit priests at SJC. Multiple priests and religious communities sacrificed home and comfort to walk with, and serve the diverse people of Belize in remote areas. You see the impact of virtuous lives, resourcefulness, and education of the Catholic faith in every rich culture represented in Belize. One can arguably note that even the preamble of the Constitution cannot be understood in its fullness without a basic understanding of the Catholic Social Teaching. Christianity has historically been a faith that unites diverse peoples with a common vision and hope. The Christian faith has inspired modern progress of this country. From credit unions, to fishing co-ops, to being men for others, to being impelled by the love of Christ to serve, to scripture verses on taxis, to enduring the suffering and death of a loved one with the hope of eternal life, the encounter of the Gospel in the lives of Belizeans is an indispensable climax of this nation’s story, which makes sense of all the other details in its history. If we choose to remove Christ from Belize by going the way of secularism, and moral relativism present in other countries, Belize will fall into an identity crisis, and will be unable to piece together the conflicting elements of its narrative. This will not bring peace into our streets.
The nation’s leaders and cultural influencers must go beyond the limited framework of the September slogan to the broader vision found in the national prayer. If the country tends toward secularism, and attempts to remove God from the story of Belize, or make God an irrelevant character in our search to promote our own modern glory without Jesus Christ, we are lost. Such foolish ideologies end up in history books, but do not stand the test of time. If we reduce our address to God to a routine protocol in a September ceremony, or allow a misinformed high-ranking lawyer to tell the Church to “shut up” on a moral issue, without a civil leader correcting or clarifying the ignorant comment, we unintentionally tend to secularism.
We risk severing an essential part of the Belizean story from its identity, and leaving the next generation vulnerable to manipulation by other more powerful nations. Ideological colonization is a high price to pay for a modern glory that fades away. Silencing the real impact of the Gospel in the telling of the story of Belize is an injustice, and is, in fact, void of gratitude. There are those who take their Catholic education, and use it to bash the Church, and God Himself, unjustly. At other crucial times in history, a secularist philosophy prevailed, as when the Commission Reform of the Constitution was instructed by the then prime minister to “regard no institution … or practice as Sacred.” It is a mistaken presumption to think we must remove God’s influence on secular things to treat them justly and objectively. Without God, the Belize story will be left to arrogant men chipping their grandiose ideas and personal opinions, emboldened by classifying them as the “will of the people,” which only ends up bringing more confusion, and destabilization of the nation.
A loss of the sacred in the hearts of the people is disastrous, not only to faith and morals, but also to family life, and our economy. An independent Belize, arrogantly seeking independence from God, is a misnomer. There is a legitimate autonomy in culture and science that moves according to its own principles and disciplines. In fact, the Church has always taught that a just ordering of these disciplines, according to reason and virtue, reveal the hand of the Creator. “For earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God.” (Gaudium et Spes, 36) However, it is a very different thing to remove the impact of God from anything that is secular, as if religion will always taint our objectivity. Such an attitude to shut out the impact of religion from daily lives, or to reduce it to the subjective will gradually have an influence in the arts, education, politics and the work place until we shape the nation in a way inconsistent with its beginnings. Although the notion of viewing “no practice as sacred” can be introduced with sincere intentions to keep peace and objectivity in a public debate, the practice of removing the sacred from our public institutions and dialogue, in reality, harms true peace. To speak about modern glory without reference to the Glory of God is at best forgetful, and at worst an atheistic illusion. To completely remove God’s influence, even from autonomous secular disciplines, disorders our daily lives in such a way that it harms them. “For without the Creator the creature would disappear.” (Gaudium et Spes, 36) In a similar way, without Jesus Christ, the Belizean story becomes absurd, and loses its meaning.
Together let’s celebrate the story of this wonderful nation brought together by God. Let’s call to mind the amazing works of God’s providence to make Belize the diverse, Christian nation it is in its core. We call to the God of Providence present in each ethnicity that found a home within the Belizean borders. Each ethnicity’s history is a remarkable work of God’s blessing, and each history embraces its own encounter with the Gospel, which supports all persons to be united in diversity. Let us remember our common history, when, at midnight, on September 21st, 1981 a nation celebrated its independence for the first time, or when, after Hurricane Janet, the people of this land gathered together to rebuild after 20,000 people were left homeless. We praise God for the strength to endure Hurricane Hattie. We thank God for the mercy he showed when Hurricane Mitch suddenly weakened and went south, after three days of menacingly sitting over the sea in front of Belize, and when a mysterious earthquake halted the Guatemalan military encroaching on the borders of Belize in 1976. There are too many significant events in the Belizean story to tell in this simple article. Whatever the memory of our nation’s story, let us always remember that the different works of human ingenuity in history are always to be understood in light of the Providence of our merciful and generous God.
From before creations grandeur to the Gospel’s might, God always had Belize in His providential sight.