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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Call To Deeper Service



The UWI St. Augustine Campus will confer an honorary LLD on theologian, Fr Clyde Harvey, during its graduation ceremonies in October 2012. Fr Harvey shared some thoughts on the relationship between the church and society with UWI Today.

Was there some point in your life—some interaction or event—that caused you to choose the path of the priesthood?
When I was 17 years old and thinking of studying philosophy, politics and economics abroad, Archbishop Finbar Ryan told me in his unique deep-throated tones, “You are to be a priest, my son. You are to be a priest.” A questioning began then about my life purpose. I entered the seminary to determine if that was really my calling; and that only became clear over time, when I was already in seminary and a student at UWI. In the aftermath of 1970, and after many, many conversations with my friends about the global turmoil, the local “revolution,” and a commitment to Trinidad and Tobago, I understood that the only way that one could truly give one’s life totally to one’s country was if one believed that this life was not everything—that life is on the positive side of infinity; it is part of something infinite. I had known for some time that my commitment to God and my commitment to my country were deeply intertwined. Now my faith in Jesus Christ sealed my commitment to my country. However, one is always choosing priesthood. I have had to renew that commitment at several challenging times since.

What has been the most gratifying aspect of that calling?
Human Beings. Over the years, I have found tremendous joy and challenge in my fellow human beings. We speak sometimes of the “least of the brethren.” I am sometimes praised for my service of the poor. Yet I have been challenged more and more to see that there are no absolutely poor; there are only people whose riches we have not yet seen. The poorest, filthiest-looking of us can bring joy to an encounter, if we learn to ‘see’ with loving eyes, and hear the story of abundance. Human beings have challenged me, frustrated and angered me; I have offended them often by insensitivity, ignorance and arrogance. Yet they are a joy. Without them, I could not claim to know anything of God.
It is obvious that you think the church has a significant role to play in community life, and not simply through readings of the scripture—do you think it goes far enough given the nature of the times?
The Church is an ancient institution. It has made history and changed through history. It remains an important institution in our culture. We live in a time of transition and transformation. We have values to uphold, not simply because God or the Bible says so, but because they are an essential part of our humanity. Yet the context of our human living is changing and, with it, the very definition of what it means to be human. So the Church has to engage with humanity as deeply as ever.
The Catholic Church has always been cautious about scientific development, but never afraid of it. Societal development is more difficult to engage with. Sometimes human beings are themselves afraid of the challenges which such social development brings. Trinidad and Tobago is precisely at such a point right now. We face a crisis of discernment as to where we ought to go and how to get there. We mortgage our future to those who would use our wealth as if it were their own. The Church must constantly urge the society to be good identifiers of complex problems and not be afraid to participate in the problem solving. We must face our own institutional problems and correct them for the sake of the nation, as in the case of our schools. We must constantly ask the deeper questions beyond the materialism which assails us. We must never be afraid of dialogue with those who challenge or oppose us.

How do you think the University can contribute towards rebuilding our society?
After 1970, the University lost much of its energy and purpose. It was, in my view, deliberately turned into an instrument, rather than an agent. The very reasoning which led to 1970 was turned on its head. The University was challenged to be servant, but it became servant of the society’s “progress,” even as we were struggling to decide what true progress might mean for us as a people. The Humanities, that agent of revolution, was downgraded, yet even today, many students think otherwise and have persisted in embracing it as a significant field of study. However, it remains clear that Humanities without Science can be delusional; and Science without the Humanities is always manipulative, if not humanly destructive. The University must constantly seek to offer the community of learners, balance, which can be realized through its primary commitment to research, especially interdisciplinary research.

What does this honorary LLD mean to you?

When I was invited to receive the award, I was surprised. At the same time, I have always seen honours as a call to deeper service. If I can serve the University more deeply in any way, I hope I can do so to UWI’s benefit. UWI has always meant a lot to me as a student, then as chaplain and a member of the seminary faculty. The news came at a time when events in the society were making me question the value of parts of my work: Rampant materialism and delusional egocentricity in Trinidad and Tobago (where the wave of a few dollars before people can turn the best of us from our higher purposes) frustrate our efforts at human transformation and empowerment. News of this award has made me realize that I have to persevere in the work of community empowerment, church and nation building, with a certain detachment from the work’s outcome. The future will tell the story.

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