CATHOLIC CHURCH: THE FOUNDING FATHER AS A BEFITTING TITLE GIVEN TO MR LEE KUAN YEW
“Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” “A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’.” Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, if our soul is troubled or sad that our brother Lee Kuan Yew has left us, let it be clear that this sadness is on our part, not his. For Lee Kuan Yew, his departure is his liberation and, most of all, his time of reckoning; a time to be glorified by the Father. Although we mourn his passing, we are relieved that the suffering he experienced because of his illness and the loss of his beloved wife has come to an end.
In truth, we do not mourn for him as if we have lost someone. Rather, we are filled with thanksgiving for what we have gained. Ninety-one years of life on earth is a very long time. The bible considers 70 years as a blessed life already. Not many people are blessed with such a long life. But a blessed life is not determined by its length. It depends on whether we have lived it well. We should rejoice with him that he has completed his journey on earth. He had run the race and fought the good fight till the end. Thus, this Mass is celebrated not only in memory of him but as a thanksgiving for the gift of Mr Lee Kuan Yew to the nation, and to pray that his soul will find rest and peace in God. Indeed, our country has been blessed with a great, strong and visionary leader with foresight, wisdom and intelligence. Not only did he have a vision for Singapore but, just as importantly, he had fortitude. Otherwise, no vision is enough to see Singapore through without perseverance. Enthusiasm without commitment will not bring us very far. He came at a time when Singapore needed a strong leader. Like St Michael who defended the people of God during the “time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence”, so, too, Mr Lee defended Singapore at a time when the young nation was in danger of both internal and external threats.
In many ways, LKY is our founding father in a true sense of the word. He gave birth to Singapore. Without him Singapore would never have become a nation. Singapore was like his child. He sacrificed everything for the children of Singapore. He fought for them and at all cost, warded off those he perceived as enemies to the existence and progress of Singapore. As a father, he ensured that Singaporeans were provided with the basic needs, luxuries, amenities and infrastructure for living, such as a clean/green city, free education, affordable healthcare, an efficient public transport and decent housing. Economically, he ensured that Singaporeans have jobs by promoting free trade, making Singapore into one of the busiest seaports in the world, and Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines the best airport and airline in the world. In international affairs, he made Singapore known all over the world and earned his place as a respected statesman. Politically, he ensured that the government is clean, honest and accountable to the people. He ensured that there is political succession. Indeed, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village into a modern city. He has made us proud to be Singaporeans. We are grateful to God for sending us a great statesman at a time when Singapore needed a leader to lead us out of poverty, economic crisis and racial disharmony.
More than just a statesman, he lived an exemplary life. He did not simply talk but walked the talk. He was a man of great self-discipline. In all things, he would do his best and did it well. He upheld the fundamental virtues for governance, namely, honesty, integrity, equality, justice, diligence and meritocracy. He did not practise favouritism but ensured that the best man got the job. He could not tolerate corruption and the lack of integrity and discipline. He was also a nurturing person, sharing his learning experiences with others. He never stopped learning and he continued learning Mandarin even in later life. He was truly a public servant. Most of all, he was a dedicated father to his children, a devoted and faithful husband. He was truly a model of family life for many of us. Indeed, “the learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.”
In enumerating his positive and good qualities, let it be clear that we are not canonizing him. We all are very much aware that in spite of his many achievements and virtues, he was not perfect even if he tried to be a perfectionist. We might disagree with some of his policies with regard to family planning, stopping at two, abortion and eugenics. We might feel that he was too harsh towards his political opponents, especially those implicated in the infamous Marxist conspiracy. Yet, we know that it was done not out of personal gain but out of his conviction that that was needed to protect and ensure the survival of this small city state. If we were to fault him, it was his excessive desire to protect the children of Singapore. He had his imperfections and weaknesses but his virtues outshone them. He may not have got all the answers right all the time, but he did what his conscience led him to do for the good of the nation.
Today, we find consolation in the scripture reading, which tells us that God has no favourites. Just as He chose the pagan King Cyrus to free his people from exile, God chose Mr Lee to be His servant for Singapore. St Peter says, “The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” In the light of what he has done and how he had lived his life, we can be confident of God’s justice and mercy for him. We too can hope that God in His merciful love will also grant him eternal rest and joy.
Although he professed to be an agnostic, he was a seeker after truth, life and love. Anyone who seeks the truth, life and love, is seeking for God or the ultimate ground of reality. Mr Lee, who is well known for his integrity and honesty, his transparency and objectivity, certainly is loved by God as well. His conscience was his God.
Explicit faith in God of course is a gift. But then Mr Lee respected the role of religions in the country. Although the country is secular, it is not secularized. He encouraged religions to play their role in building the people with strong moral values and to collaborate in building a nation of peace and harmony. What he could not tolerate was when people mixed politics with religion, or when religion is made used of for political purposes, or when religions seek to impose their beliefs on others, causing division and tension. Hence, he actively promoted inter-religious dialogue and collaboration among all religions. He understood the importance of religion for the well-being of the people. In the later part of his life, he began to take a serious interest in meditation. Whether he saw it as a means of relaxation or to find peace, yet his heart exemplified that of the psalmist who was thirsting for God. “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?” He certainly harboured hopes of everlasting love and eternal life; otherwise, it would not have made sense for him to will that his ashes be mixed with that of his late wife’s.
When all is said and done, we cannot but marvel at what Mr Lee had done for Singapore. We owe him much. What is the secret of Mr Lee’s success? It is his self-discipline, a life guided by a deep foundation in ethical and moral principles, devotion to his country and a deep love for the people of Singapore. Above all, he emptied his life for the people. As the gospel says, “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.” Indeed, Mr Lee has put the interest of the nation before his own. His total devotion to the country has made Singapore a first world nation.
The greatest honour we can give to Mr Lee is to continue the legacy and foundation he has laid down for us. It is not enough to be grateful to Mr Lee but we need to continue to safeguard the unity, peace and progress he had achieved for us. Many of these values are also enshrined in the gospel. Following him, we too must give up our life for public service and for the service of the nation and our fellowmen. No one must live for himself or herself alone. We must live for others. It behooves us to cultivate the right values and principles to guide us through in life; and to build faithful and loving marriages and families. We must imitate his virtues of perseverance, tenacity and courage in the face of adversity and challenges. He had taught us how we must not be overwhelmed by power and money, but to remain simple, devoted and faithful to one’s spouse and children. Finally, like him, we need to be active in mind and body. Even as we age, we must continue to help to nurture the next generation as mentor and not just to be “happy in retirement.”
When we live for others as he did, then Jesus will say to us, “If a man serves me, he must follow me; wherever I am my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.” For a man who has given up his life completely for public service, a man who lived by his conscience, a man who lived a life of integrity and honesty, a man who lived for others, we can hope for God’s abundant mercy and that He will reward him with eternal life, for he has been a good and faithful servant of His people, discharging his responsibilities with total dedication. We pray that he will be united with the Lord and with his dearly beloved wife and share eternal happiness, life and love forever. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore