Advent: A New Understanding of Time

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The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of a new year in the church with the celebration of the first Sunday of Advent.  On the First Sunday of Advent, I usually greet the people in the shrine “a Happy New Year!” They are dumbfounded to hear this at the end of November. Wait a minute, some of them would ask, you mean to say the church does not celebrate new year on January 1st? I tell them that the church also celebrates new year in January but for the church, the true beginning of the year is the first Sunday of Advent. 

This awareness that a different calendar exist in the church somehow rattles our understanding and experience of time since, pardon the cliché, time immemorial. For us, we simply understand time as just the usual chronology of events measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years.  Time gives dimension to our experience like having a beginning and an end. The new awareness of a different time in the church, however, makes us think that there is more to time than the chronological and quantitative dimension of time. Time is something we have taken for granted for so long yet has profound and transformative power. 

The readings for the weekday and Sunday masses during Advent season may have also confounded our chronological understanding of time. It is indeed confusing to think that if Advent is the beginning of the new year in the church why are the readings during this season about the final events and end of days.  In other words, why begin with the end? Does the church have a reversed understanding of time? 

The celebration of Advent, indeed, exposes the different sense of time we employ in the ordinary world and the church. The church through its liturgical year calls us to ponder time in the context of the mystery of our salvation in God. The Church’s liturgical year is a celebration of the Paschal Mystery – the mystery of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ – his Person, birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection – and the Holy Spirit.  Time in the sense of the church is God’s plan as revealed in time. God’s salvation is not only revealed in the fullness of time, but in the gift of time itself.  It is a gift, as it is a creation of God, and the dimension in which we go about receiving redemption.

Thus, God’s salvation is not separate from the seasons of nature. Just as nature and our lives are responsive to the seasons of the year – Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn, the Church’s liturgical year follows nature with its distinctive seasons and feasts which sustains the Catholic community’s life and mission. 

It is not just the church, however, who has a different perspective of time other than the chronological time. Even the scientific world has for a long time presented a more dynamic understanding of time. Thanks to Albert Einstein who more than 100 years ago proposed that the universe has no universal and absolute clock. Einstein’s concept of time is encapsulated in his theory of relativity which states that time and space are not as constant as everyday life would suggest. Time, according to Einstein is a relative concept and the higher you live above sea level the faster you should age. 

Even the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (χρόνος) and kairos (καιρός). Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, while the kairos signifies a proper or opportune time for action.  While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature.

Kairos denotes the right, critical, or opportune moment. In etymological studies of the word, the primary root of the word traces back to the ancient Greek association with both archery and weaving. In archery, kairos denotes the moment in which an arrow may be fired with sufficient force to penetrate a target. In weaving, kairos denotes the moment in which the shuttle could be passed through threads on the loom. The moral lesson is that we should pay more attention to kairos even as we cannot abandon the chronos

The New Testament writers adopted this two distinctive Greek understanding of time. In the New Testament kairos was used to mean “the appointed time in the purpose of God,” the time when God acts (for example in Mark 1:15: “The kairos is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand!”). Kairos was used 86 times in the New Testament to refer to an opportune time, a “moment” or a “season” such as “harvest time,” whereas chronos  was used 54 times to refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour (e.g. Acts 13:18 and 27:9).

It is in this Biblical understanding of time adopted from the Greeks that we should read the texts of the liturgical readings during this Advent season. The texts are not so much a warning about the end of the world inasmuch as it is a commentary on living in a time of crisis and turbulence. What Jesus is talking about is now. Since we do not know the hour or the day, let this be the hour, let this be the day, let this be the time that we live and die. This day, this moment, this life, is the time to bear fruit. The essence of Advent is readiness for action: watchfulness for every opening, and willingness to risk everything for freedom and a new beginning.  We should all work and capture every opportunity for the elimination of disease, poverty, injustice and death itself although this will only be fully realized at the second coming of Jesus Christ.  

Christianity is fundamentally a religion of conversion. Christianity is an invitation for us to a change of heart and mind; to a transformation of our thinking and living according to God’s thinking, ways and attitude. It is also an invitation to live and act in time in accordance to God’s perspective of time. As the song goes,

In his time, in his time
He makes all things beautiful
In his time

Lord please show me everyday
As you’re teaching me your way
That you do just what you say
In your time

 

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SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING: THE TENSION OF CHRISTIAN LIFE

On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the church celebrates all over the world the Feast of Christ the King. It was Pope Pius XI who instituted the feast in 1925. The Pope’s intention was to set Christ’s reign against totalitarian ideologies in the ‘Thirties. The Feast has become a reminder and counter-symbol to the totalitarian governments of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin.  Today, more than ever, we need to celebrate and proclaim Christ as King amidst the rise of strongman and authoritarian rulers in many parts of the world.

In any era of history, kingship is always associated with power, prestige, and wealth. In proclaiming Jesus Christ as king, the church presents the kingship of Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurated as diametrically opposite to having power, wealth and influence. Jesus kingship is all about sacrifice, humility and service.

Jesus’ anti-king of earthly nature is reflected in our readings today.  The second reading, for example, proclaims that Jesus kingship is borne out of his suffering and death for our sakes

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father,

The Gospel presents Christ the King on trial who is about to suffer and die. As we all know, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God, and they wanted him to die by the most shameful and painful death, Roman execution.  Hence, they brought Jesus before Pilate the Roman governor and accused Jesus of causing sedition against the Roman Empire and Caesar.  “We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king” (Lk 23:2).  Today’s Gospel presents the first part of the trial conducted by Pilate who questions Jesus about his kingship.  In his dialogue with Pilate, Jesus implies that Pilate does not understand the spiritual or transcendent nature of Jesus’ kingship (“My Kingdom does not belong to this world”).  Jesus admits that he is a king but declares that his Kingdom is not of this world.  Neither his present nor his future reign operates according to the world’s criteria of power and dominance.  Jesus’ Kingdom, the reign of God, is based on the beatitudes, and he rules through loving service rather than through domination.  His authority is rooted in truth, not in physical force.

Pilate knew that Jesus was not guilty but chose political expediency over truth. In the end, it was Pilate who was in trial. And history judged him harshly.  Jesus did not succumb to the mockery of Pilate and the Jews but at a high cost–his suffering and death on the cross.

Today as we celebrate Jesus as king, we are reminded of the sacrificial nature of Jesus as king and the radical social demands of belonging to his kingdom. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in standing against any use of power, influence and wealth to dominate over others. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in standing for the truth despite the prevalence of lies and systematic cover-up of truth. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in offering even our own lives so that God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice may prosper and prevail.

To celebrate Jesus as king unveils the important and permanent reality of tension of our earthly existence. Jesus’ response to Pilate unearths this tension between this world vs. Jesus’ kingdom.

“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

As followers of Christ we live in the tension of “being in this world but not of this world.” It is the tension of becoming a member of a new community under God and being a part of the ethnicities, nations, and families whose membership does not preclude unbelievers. The whole of the New Testament makes it clear that response to the reign of God and the kingship of Jesus has everything to do with how we live out our earthly citizenship—how we work, pay, buy, sell, and vote. We believe, however, that our final destiny goes beyond this world to a whole new world radically transformed through God’s dynamic and powerful grace. It is in that sense that Jesus’ kingship “does not belong to this world” and “is not here.”

In the midst of the rising influence and power of strongman and autocratic leaders today, proclaiming Jesus as King will incur persecution, character assassination even death from instruments of the system that breeds and sustains these strongmen and autocratic leaders. As Jesus as king suffered persecution and death, we who wish to be part of his kingdom, will not be exempted from the pain and sorrow of standing up for the blossoming of his kingdom. But fear not, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and God the Father has bestowed upon us, will give us the strength and guide us through the dark road of navigating the tension of being in this world while living God’s kingdom already here but not yet; only to be fully realized at the end of time.

Christ, perfect ruler, source of perfect peace and justice: reign now and forever over all peoples, languages, nations; over our hearts. Amen.

33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: HOPE DEFIANT

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For many devotees, the shrine has become a channel for pouring out their sorrows and woes, an outlet for catharsis. They see the shrine as a very important channel where they could pour out their sufferings and agonies and turn to the Lord and Mary which in many cases is their only hope.

The plea of the thousands of devotees who come to the shrine is not just a cry for their needs but also a cry for liberation from whatever form of captivity they find themselves. In the state of captivity they find themselves, their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help give them hope and strength not to surrender to apathy but to continue to struggle.

In this spirit of hope, devotees not only pray for what they need, but aim to be set free towards the life they profoundly aspire to attain.  They learn to embrace an active disposition–never surrendering to apathy and indifference. Led by Our Mother of Perpetual Help towards the true source of hope and light–Jesus Christ–they refuse to accept the status quo of their suffering and bondage.

In this way they develop a kind of hope in what Dutch Dominican Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx describes as a hope that is born “amidst the experiences of negativity, darkness, and injustice in which human beings cry out in protest: ‘This cannot go on!’”  Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly calls this hope as the refusal to see the ultimate meaning of life as simply more of the same. In this context, hope becomes bold, daring and defiant.

Thus, the experience of pouring out of one’s sorrows for many devotees is not just cathartic but empowering. In a thanksgiving letter written on August 27, 2014, Michelle Mulingbayan shares this kind of experience in the shrine:

I started coming to you last February 2014 because of a big problem that I was going through during those times with the father of my child. It has been my practise that whenever I experience that kind of feeling, I go to mass or visit a nearby church in order to pour out my sorrows, ask for help and guidance in order to lighten the pain I am experiencing … Almost every night I could not stop crying because of so the unbearable pain. For nine Wednesdays, I did not surrender, and in those times, I gradually felt peace in my heart and mind.  Every time I pray the novena, I feel the warmth of your acceptance and helping hand in order that I might overcome this trial in my life.

Today’s readings of the 33rd Sunday in ordinary time expresses this defiant attitude of hope. The readings today portrays the Biblical times in jagged and dark images in a language called “apocalyptic literature.” The first reading from Daniel, for instance, describes his times as

“A time unsurpassed in distress.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus painted a gloomy picture about the end times to his disciples:

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

In the midst of these dark and gloomy times, both readings proclaimed words of hope.  At the end of the First Reading we heard God’s promise of redemption:

… the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
shall be like the stars forever.

That there is hope amidst darkness is anchored on the belief that at the end of time, God will be victorious. Goodness and love will have the final say. In the Gospel, Jesus proclaimed

And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Today, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, toxic wastes, holes in the ozone layer, tsunami and hurricanes, shootings and killings, just to start the list. A fifth of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. About three billion people lack adequate nutrition. There are somewhere between one billion and two billion unemployed adults in the world. More than half of the countries of the world have used violence against their own citizens in the form of torture, brutality, and summary executions.

In the midst of all these crises and tribulations, those with power, wealth and position continue to reign. Their power and influence grew stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao continue to suffer, became poorer and weaker every day.

It doesn’t have to be always this way. We don’t need to surrender to the captivity we find ourselves today. We need to have a hope which defies even the most destructive force in our world that in the midst of the violence, chaos, madness, and misery of our lives here on earth, there is a “beyond-this-world” that is totally opposite our world today. It is this world where God will reign.  This is what Jesus proclaimed as the Kingdom of God. This world is already growing but will reached its fullest potential through the most creative and dynamic power and grace of God in the end.

At the end of time, as the readings today proclaims, the poor, those who suffered and were persecuted will reign while those who have dominated and use their power, position and wealth to abuse others will suffer. False messiahs will be expose for who they truly are. As the First Reading says, at the last chapter of history some people will be seen as the horror and disgrace that they really are. Others will shine like the splendor of the stars. The winners in the battle of life, those who shine like stars, are those who have turned many to justice. Those who acted with courage and integrity for justice, goodness, and truth will be hated, afflicted, and even killed today but in the end they will shine like the splendor of the stars.

God will make all things new. He is known today in his promises. Hope is what gives us confidence in the possibility that those things which are now so destructive of human well-being will be overcome. Hope speaks to a world vividly aware of the “not yet” dimensions of human and social existence, and of the fact that hope at its human level is of the stuff of meaningful existence. It is hope that changes us, hope that changes the world.

November Month of Vocation: Threats and Challenges to Vocation Today

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November is a special month in the shrine for showcasing vocation. During this month, every Wednesday there is a sharing and testimonials about the different vocation in our church, e.g., religious sisters, priests, brothers and lay vocation. There is also an ongoing photo exhibit by different religious congregations and lay associations.

The shrine has actively promoted vocations through these years. It has a vocation office and a full-time Redemptorist and lay vocation promoter who coordinates all vocation promotion activities in the shrine. The shrine promotes all vocation, not just vocation to religious life. The profound truth is that we are all called by God. Each of us has his/her particular special calling by God. Each vocation is unique.

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Vocation which literally means calling, is a reality deeply embedded in our lives. We all have this inner burning itch of what we would like to become someday. Depending on what our unique God-given talents and ability are, we pursue our dream, for example, to become an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a photographer, a dancer, etc., someday. In our Christian framework, however, vocation is not only an ambition or a career that we want to pursue in the future. Vocation is God’s calling to live life to the fullest that God has planted in our hearts. To live life to the fullest is in no way opposed to developing our talents and pursuing our creative path. As our Lord Jesus have said, however, we can only achieve the highest fulfillment of ourselves, our gifts and talents if we do not keep it to ourselves but to develop and share them for the love of God, our neighbor and ourselves. In other words, if we wish to fulfill our vocation as Christians we must all become selfless servants and lovers. Whenever we are inclined to seek for ourselves wealth, prestige, popularity, and position, it is no longer about vocation but ambition and power.

The socio-economic and political milieu of the world today may be more receptive to the drive for ambition and power. Thus, it poses some imminent threats and tough challenges to living out the Christian perspective of vocation. We shall focus on two of these major threats and challenges.

One of the biggest threat to vocation today is globalization and the dominant system of neo-liberal capitalism. Because of globalization, many young people chooses professions which will provide the quickest job in a globalized economy. Because of the poverty that was exacerbated by globalization, many young people have no choice but to take professions that will get them easy jobs both here and abroad, for example, nursing, seaman, caregiver, domestic helper, laborers; vocational and technical courses like welding, mechanics, computer technician, etc. For easy landing in local jobs, topping the list of professions today are: call center, medical transcriptionists, etc.

It is a sad reality, indeed, that for many of our young people in our country today, the main motivation for choosing one’s vocation is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Never mind if this is what they truly want and aspire, the reality is, many young people dream of freeing their family from the shackles of poverty. Thus, many are in their present profession, even though they are not happy or something inside of them is saying that this is not the way they would wish to become someday. The economic plight has stifled their creativity and worst of all the very nature of what they want to become.

Another threat to the living out of the Christian vocation is the postmodern culture. Postmodernism has created a “me” society where the interests of the individual takes precedence over the interests of the country or social group or religion. The autonomous individual becomes the measure of all things. The focus is on oneself, one’s own personal development, apart from one’s community and society. Individualism also endangers tradition and institution. That is why there is a massive mistrust in most of the traditional institutions and authority. This is particularly strong amongst young people where they have shown less and less knowledge about their nation’s heroes. And because of the loss of credibility and authenticity of leaders and those in authority, more and more young people have shown reluctance to follow anyone, let alone look up to an idol or a model.

In a world which apparently has no one to follow, it has become tougher to offer a way of life anchored on following Christ. In this age where traditional sources of meaning are being questioned by today’s generation, the very purpose of vocation has become harder to live out and has stirred some inner confusion and emptiness.

These threats and challenges, among other factors, have led to less and less young people entering priesthood and religious life. Probably church and religious leaders have not live enough what they preach. Many have been turned off by the scandals in the church–sexual and material. More significantly, church and religious may have not always succeeded in communicating the real reasons of their consecration and ministry, and in showing how their way of life and spirituality can respond to the needs of the present generation especially the young.

These threat and challenges should not, however, deter us from discovering our deepest calling, pursuing our noblest aspirations and achieving our fullest human maturity. The material, commercial and individualist milieu does not invalidate nor diminish the integrity of vocation as living life to the fullest in a life of service and sacrifice. In a globalized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim the liberating Gospel which gives us a meaningful way to set people free from the slavery to money, power and fame. In a highly individualized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ can we be true individuals, fully human and fully alive. Living out the true meaning of vocation is not to fulfill our calling in isolation but in communion with others and with God.

Mary’s life is a testimony to the truth that our deepest vocation is to live according to a greater cause other than ourselves. Life’s deepest calling is to enter into God’s plan and surrender to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary to the angel, “may it happen to me as you have said” (Lk 1: 38). Mary’s response to God’s invitation was not a blind submission but a free and deliberate giving of herself to a higher purpose, that is, to be the mother of the Son of God made man. In responding to God’s invitation, she achieved perfect happiness and humanity.

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If you want to discover and discern more the meaning of your true vocation in life, come and drop by at our Vocation office. You may also attend the regular search-in, holy hour and vocation direction activities at the shrine. For more information, visit our website.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray that we may continue to discover, respond and live out God’s calling in our lives.

32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE HIDDEN LESSON OF THE WIDOW’S MITE

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Majority of the devotees in the shrine are poor. Many who flock to the shrine are hungry, thirsty, alienated, depressed, excluded, abandoned and deprived in multiple ways and variety of experiences. Many are just barely getting by, surviving on a day to day existence, as we say in Tagalog, isang kahig, isang tuka, (one scratch, one peck) which means hand-to-mouth existence.  Despite their poverty, they persistently turn to God and Our Mother of Perpetual Help and even generously give of what they have to the many programs and services of the shrine.

This is very true in the building of the shrine.  The construction of the shrine became possible through the coins contributed by the poor devotees. Actual construction of the shrine began in 1953 and finished in 1958. Although there were admittedly some prominent donors, Fr. Lew O’leary, Rector of the shrine at that time, stressed that about 75% of the cost of the construction came from the poor devotees. Devotees dropped their ten centavos through a campaign dubbed as “Ten Cents to Help Build a Shrine.”

This is why it took six years to build the shrine. Most of the money that came from small donations often ran out requiring construction to stop. Truly it is a church by the people, built mainly not by big and rich benefactors, but by the ordinary poor people. No wonder they continue to identify so strongly with it.

In the readings of today’s 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, we hear of extreme examples of utter generosity of the poorest among the poor in Israel during Biblical times–the widow. Widows are among those who suffered the most in Israel during ancient times. Thus, scripture repeatedly reveals God’s care for the widow, the poor, the fatherless and the stranger, and also reveals His anger at those who deprive them of what they need to live. Despite their extreme poverty, our readings today show the utter generosity of two widows.

In the first reading from the first book of Kings, Elijah asks the widow of Zarephath to give him the little cake she was about to share with her son before they die. Amazingly, she accedes to Elijah’s request. And the jar of flour and the jug of oil continue to deliver a miraculous supply that sustains not only her and her child but also the drop-in prophet—for a whole year. In the gospel, a poor widow gave all she had to the temple. The two widows in the readings gave up everything, totally trusting in the goodness of the Lord.

The traditional interpretation of the gospel story tends to view it as contrasting the conduct of the scribes with that of the widow, and encouraging generous giving. I have always heard the story of the Widow’s Mite used in the context of sacrificial giving. I have even heard it often in fund raising enjoining parishioners to generously give to a certain project of the parish.  Focusing on sacrificial giving, however, may miss a very important lesson which Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel.

To understand this very important lesson of Jesus which may seem hidden to us in the gospel we may need to go back to the scene prior to the gospel story today.  In the passage immediately prior to Jesus taking a seat opposite the Temple treasury, he is portrayed as condemning religious leaders who feign piety, accept honor from people, and steal from widows.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” (Mark 12:38 – 40)

In the light of this earlier passage, Addison Wright commented that more than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is actually condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “…the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it” [1]. The religious officials of the day, instead of helping the widows in need, were perfectly content to rob them of their livelihood and inheritance. The system was corrupt, and the darkness of the scribes’ greed makes the widow’s sacrifice shine even more brightly. In other words, more than praising the widow for donating her last mite; Jesus is pointing to her as a specimen of the exploitation of the poor widows by the Jewish leaders. She is not there to have her faith praised–she is there for the damnation of the ruling Jewish elite. Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament of what society has become because of the hypocrisy and exploitation by the elite.

Similarly, Ched Myers shows in detail how the scribes so-called religious piety was the very reason for the perpetuation of the suffering and poverty of widows.

Scribal affluence is a product of their ‘devouring the estates of widows under the pretext of saying long prayers’ . . . Through their public reputation for piety and trustworthiness (hence the ‘pretext of long prayers’), scribes would earn the legal right to administrate estates. As compensation they would usually get a percentage of the assets; the practice was notorious for embezzlement and abuse . . . The vocation of Torah Judaism is to ‘protect widows and orphans,’ yet in the name of piety these socially vulnerable classes are being exploited while the scribal class is further endowed . . . [S]cribal piety has been debunked as a thin veil for economic opportunism and exploitation . . . The temple has robbed this woman of her very livelihood (12:44). Like the scribal class, it no longer protects widows, but exploits them. [2]

Sadly, what Jesus observed in his day remains true today. The present socio-economic, political system even religious system continue to exploit the poor and bled them dry of their resources. Yet those with the least continue to give more, by percentage of their resources, than the wealthy. The super wealthy, the wealthy and ostentatious “scribes” of today, actually give less than those who have middle and lower incomes in taxes and in the betterment of society.

Through the gospel story, Jesus is challenging us to see the structures that allow an exploitative system that defrauds the poor and benefits the rich to continue. We need to ask why we let this continue to happen. What can we do to make society and our faith communities more fair, just and equitable?

Hopefully, this Sunday we don’t miss the point of the widow’s mite, but instead accept the challenge of Jesus and make a difference in our world.

 


 

[1] Addison G. Wright, “The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament”, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 44, 1982, pp.256-265

[2] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 20th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 320 – 322.

31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE ♥ OF CHRISTIANITY

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Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

During my almost 10 years of hearing confession at the Baclaran shrine, the most common sins that people confess were against the Ten Commandments. As you know the ten commandments are expressed mostly in the negative: “Thou shall not kill.” “Thou shall not commit adultery.” “Thou shall not steal.” “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” etc. This emphasizes the sin of commission rather than the sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins that we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do. It’s the type of sin in which most of us are familiar with. Sins of omission, on the other hand, are sins we commit by not doing something we ought to do. Come to think of it, most of us are more guilty of the sin of omission. Examples of sins of omission are not praying, not standing up for the truth, not sharing Christ with others, not sharing our talents and wealth with others, not defending the poor and victims of  injustice, oppression and abuse and many others.

Focusing on the ten commandments and the sin of commission also reinforces the view that Christianity is a set of rules, of do’s and don’ts. Christianity is merely concerned with the externals. Christianity is the mere fulfillment of an obligation and a duty.

The readings for today’s 31st Sunday in ordinary time focuses on Christianity as a way of life based on love. The readings focused on love–loving God, loving others and loving oneself–as the heart and soul of our faith. Not that there is any contradiction between the Ten Commandments and the commandment to love the Lord and our neighbor with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength but living out the Ten Commandments without love of God, neighbor and self would be empty and superficial.

In the first reading, the book of Deuteronomy talks about the Shema (“Hear O Israel”), which became the daily Jewish prayer.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”

“Hear, O Israel” was to become a centerpiece of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services. This great commandment of the Hebrew covenant is the greatest commandment, to love God above all else and with all we have. God is to be loved in response to his prior revelation of himself as the one God. In Hebraic thought, heart, soul, and strength do not mean separate human faculties but the person in the totality of his/her being.

Despite being the greatest commandment, it was the most abused commandment by the people of God, as the people of Israel struggled with different forms of idolatry. In our own day we continue to violate this commandment with the various idolatries that infect our public life: worship of money, adoration at the altar of capitalism, religious reverence for authoritarian rule which gives blessings to the brutal drug war on drugs which has killed more than 20,000 suspected drug pushers and addicts.

In the gospel, Jesus ratifies this greatest commandment but also links it with the love of neighbor: taken together the two commandments cover the ground. Jesus did not invent the second greatest commandment. He only link it with the first, to tie together love of God with love of neighbor.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. …
[And] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Just as we violate the first commandment, so we violate the second one as well: we discriminate against our neighbor, we use our political and economic power to oppress our neighbor, we overwork and underpay our neighbor, we sexually harass our neighbor, we physically abuse our neighbor, we lock our neighbor up and forget about him, we seem to do many things that are not love of neighbor.

To love God, to love our neighbor as ourselves is the greatest commandment of our faith. There is no greater commandment than these. It is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. The heart of Christianity is not in the law, external practices but in putting our heart and soul into loving God, neighbor and self.

Love is, however, more than just a duty or an obligation. Love is the very core of our being, the very heart of Christianity. Love is our deepest identity. We are born to love because we are created in the image and likeness of God who is love. The greatest sin that we can commit, therefore, is the failure to love, the omission to love, the denial of our identity as a loving creature.  At the end of the day, we will be judged as to how we have loved God and loved our neighbor as ourselves.

Christ, write on our hearts your law of love so that we can love you with our whole soul, our whole mind, and all our understanding, and with every ounce of our strength. And let our love for you spill over to our neighbor and our selves.