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Saturday, October 25, 2014

STANDARD OF LOVING

    


 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
   
        God expressed his love to Israel through the Covenant and the essence of the Covenant between God and Israel is expressed through the Ten Commandments. To ensure that the Israelites should follow them, the Pharisees multiplied the commandments into 613 positive and negative laws. There were too many of them to follow and because they were confusing they became a burden for the people.

      Jesus’ answer to the question “Which is the greatest commandment” is a quotation from two passages in the Old Testament:
1) Dt. 6:5 as the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole mind.”  It is called the “Shemah Israel" (Listen Israel).
2) Lev. 19:18 as the second greatest commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
         Although they were quotations from the Old Testament, Jesus introduced something new:  First, the hinge and the definite meaning of any commandment is Love!  Second, Jesus put the two commandments together as an inseparable unity. 
          Why do we have to love God? Because God is love and he has loved us first.  God translates this divine love through our human experience of being loved.  Under normal circumstances, all of us are the fruits of the overflowing love between our father and mother.  From the moment of our conception until birth we have experienced this magnificent love most especially from our mothers.  During our childhood and our growing years, we were the recipients of love from people around us like our families and friends.
Why do we have to love others as our self?  Simply because God loves them as he loves us.  1 Jn. 4:20 reminds us that if we say we love God but we hate our brother, we are liars!  Because if we cannot love our brother whom we can see, then how can we love God whom we cannot see?  In romantic love, we fall in love with the other person because we feel attracted to his/her goodness or good qualities.  It is the magnet of love that draws us to the other person.  In our love to our parents, siblings, friends and even to humanity, it is the goodness in us that overflows and seeks to be shared.  This is called charity which is love in action.  St. Paul reminds that there are three things that will last: faith, hope, charity and the greatest of these is charity (1 Cor 13:13).  He also reminds us of the futility of things without love. “If can speak the tongues of angels, have all the prophetic knowledge, give all my possessions, but do not have love, I gain nothing…” (1Cor 1:1-3).
The new commandment of love by Jesus became the standard of Christian love!  If we cannot see Jesus and love him in others most especially amongst the poorest, the marginalised, the oppressed, the homeless and the least, neither can we see and love God in heaven!

          

Sunday, October 19, 2014

TAKE LORD, RECEIVE....

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A

Israel was under the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus so the Jews were required by the Roman law to pay tribute to the Roman Emperor in form of taxes.  For the nationalistic Jews, payment was an offence to Israel yet refusal to pay would be a form of rebellion against the Empire.
         When Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not, Jesus replied: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We all know that the question was an entrapment to Jesus by the Pharisees and the Herodians.   To say “yes” means contradicting the people’s direct relationship with God and giving up the dream of the Jews  for political freedom.  To say “no” means agitating rebellion against the Roman rule.  But the response of Jesus in this very difficult dilemma was neither Yes or No!  Jesus wanted to bring the political agenda of his listeners to a higher ground.  
By asking whose face was inscribed in the coin being used by the Jews in their transactions, Jesus in return put the snares back to them.  When they said it was Caesar’s, they have long ago acknowledged the authority of Caesar as their Emperor, as if they had already answered  their own question.   Now it was Jesus' turn to bring authority in the spiritual realm:  Render to God what belongs to God.”  The reference to the inscription on the coin (denarius) is very important because if the face of Caesar was inscribed in the coin then the money belongs to Caesar.  But because man is created in the image and likeness of God, then humanity belongs to God.  It is a very simple logic!
Jesus did not dwell on the legitimacy of the Roman rule because the Jews had already established that fact by using the coin that bore the face of Caesar.   More importantly Jesus’ concern was to establish our obligation to the spiritual authority that encompasses everything including emperors and kings. 
So now, why and what do we have to render to God?
 Our country gives us our citizenship, acquired by birth or by being naturalised, which is our privilege.  So our government protects us and gives us the services due to us as its citizens.  But this privilege has a corresponding responsibility on our part as citizens: to give something back in return to the state like our taxes, voting during election, defending the country in times of aggression, etc.  That is how we give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. 
In the spiritual realm, God has given us the privilege of being called his adopted children.  Because he is our Father, he provides us with everything we need.  In return, we do not give him “something” like what we give to the state, instead we give him our life!   He owns everything including us so we render him our adoration, praise, love and fidelity.

“Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will…. You have given all to me, now I return it.  Everything is yours; do with what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.  Amen”
(St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Friday, October 10, 2014

THE WEDDING INVITATION


28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 22:1-14

What a joy to be invited to a wedding!  We all love weddings!   A wedding is a celebration of union between husband and wife and the union of families; it is also a celebration of joy expressed by the revelry and the banquet.
          The theme of the readings this Sunday is about the Royal Wedding Banquet. It is messianic and royal, heavenly and eschatological:  messianic and royal because it is the wedding of  the Messiah and of the King to his people; heavenly because it is a reality that represents the Kingdom of heaven; eschatological because it will happen at the end of time.

The first reading in the book of Isaiah prophesies that the banquet will be of fine wines and rich food which will be served for all peoples.   The parable in the gospel is about the King who invited people to the wedding banquet of his son; it also shows us the attitude of the invitees towards the celebration.  The first ones to be invited refused the invitation and killed the servants.  In anger, the king sent his troops to destroy the murderers.  Then the invitation was extended to everyone until the wedding hall was filled with guests.  Yet one of the guests was not in a proper wedding attire so he was sent out and was punished as well.
          In the Old Testament the Israelites were the first ones to be invited being the Chosen People of God but they refused and killed their prophets who represented God’s messengers.  In the  New Testament they again rejected the one sent by God, Jesus who was the Messiah.   After the resurrection, the invitation was extended to the Gentiles and the rest of the world who willingly accepted it hence the growth and spread of the Church.  These were the new invitees to the messianic banquet who accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
          The parable is a story not just of the past with the Jews and Gentiles but it is a living and present reality with us as characters.  We are the new People of God and being members of the Church, we have responded positively to the invitation in the Wedding Banquet.  But this invitation is not just to those who received baptism and became members of the Church but to all peoples of the world.  The invitation remains a constant calling to each one of us and the rest of humanity not just in the heavenly banquet at the end of our lives but in the here and now of our existence.  It is God who calls us into a fellowship with Him as his children. Just like when we gather as a family in our homes most especially during meals, we also gather together as a Christian family every time we celebrate the Mass.  It is the time when we partake in a banquet prepared for us by God in the form of bread and wine which is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  It is the foretaste of the banquet we will be celebrating for the rest of our lives in heaven.  Our “wedding garment” represents good works as fruits of our faith which we have to wear and bring into the celebration.

The wedding is not just about the banquet and food but primarily the union of the bride and the bridegroom and the families who participate in the celebration.   This is a very important consideration at the moment when our Church is currently having the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (Synod #14) at the Vatican to evaluate the situation of our families and to discern how the family can mirror the union of the Trinity as the Primordial Family.  Our relationship with God is nuptial:  it is about union, both as individual (personal) and communal (ecclesial).  If the Christian family, the domestic church, is the mirror of the Trinity as a family then our families should reflect this divine reality in the world.  The Eucharist in its humblest form symbolises the union of God with his family, here and now expressed in the earthly Eucharist and also in the time to come expressed in the heavenly Eucharist.  We are all invited into this union and banquet…

Sunday, October 5, 2014

REBELLION AGAINST GOD

 


27TH  SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 21: 33-43

       In the history of salvation, God manifested his great love by entering into a covenant relationship with man. But what did God get in return?  Rejection!  Yet God remained faithful, loving and merciful.
   
       In the book of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God is depicted as the vine dresser and Israel as the vineyard in this covenant-relationship. God gave the best of everything to Israel but Israel had always been unfaithful, stubborn and ungrateful.  Jesus in the parable of the tenants reminded the Jews about their stewardship in the vineyard and predicted their obstinacy and the evil intention of their hearts.  The Jews did not want to give the produce of the harvest because they wanted to take by force the vineyard to themselves.  First they killed the Prophets who were God's messengers and eventually they killed the son of the owner.  At the end, the parable of Jesus became his own living story: he was rejected and killed by his own people! The rejection of Jesus did not end with the Jews; there is a continuous hatred and rebellion against God.  In the course of time we saw this in the attempt to suppress Christianity by all means in the different stages of Church history.  One of these is the time of martyrdom which in spite of the shedding of the blood had always been the glorious and golden age of the Church.  History will always be a silent witness of how evil tried to trample goodness underfoot with all the horrifying mechanisms of ethnic cleansing, genocide, “otherization”, religious war, all in the pseudo-name of justified cause for the advancement of humanity. We see this concretely in the present time when  hundreds of thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters who by the witness of their faith were killed in the Middle East countries.  We pray for those who are being persecuted and  driven away from their lands and are experiencing many forms of inhumanity because of their religious belief.  We pray for peace in the hearts of those who are in power to do such barbaric acts in the name of religion.
        
         Since the beginning of time man had always wanted to seize power and to be in control.  In short, there is this inner longing to become god!  Self-sufficiency and egoism have always been the altars by which man elevates himself without the need of God.  The deification of man will always be the temptation to prove man's supremacy over anything else that exists.  This is not just true with atheism or pseudo-religions but more importantly even within the sacred walls of our own Church. 
     
        We come face to face with the dilemma of the presence of Church leaders and ministers who because of their weaknesses continue to wound the Body of Christ and also those who are faithful in their vocation yet being persecuted by their own ranks and by the world. 

         Where do we see ourselves in the parable?  First we acknowledge the fidelity of God who in his great mercy and love gave us the best of everything.   This privilege to be called in his vineyard (the Church) entails the corresponding  responsibility of carrying in ourselves the seed of the Kingdom. With all the graces that we received, God prepared this seed to  grow and mature so that it will yield fruits ready for the harvest at the appointed time.  These fruits are the good works of our hands, small and grand, ready to be shared to the world.  We may have laboured and toiled to the best of our abilities but it was God who brought them to fruition.  The tenants in the parable refused to give the fruits of the harvest to the owner of the vineyard because they thought it was theirs to keep.  When we have done something good, we acknowledge the goodness of God bursting into the world.  We are just mere stewards of  charity by which God blesses others so that those who have less in life will have a little bit more when they receive a part of our selves.   
Our arms are too short to strangle God; our hands are too weak to kill him.  God is in control, not us; God is the one glorified, not us.