SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY REDEEMER: GOD MUST BE CRAZY

mostholyredeemer

Every third Sunday of July, Redemptorists all over the world celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. Thus today, all churches, parishes and shrines all over the world under the care of Redemptorist has for its Sunday mass the solemnity of the Most Holy Redeemer in place of the 16th Sunday in ordinary time. This is with special permission from Rome.

All Redemptorists have four letters after their names – C.Ss.R. This stands for
Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris. This is the official Latin title given to its Religious
Order. It can be translated into English as “Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,” more commonly called “Redemptorists.” On their coat of arms is written: Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio – With Him There Is Plentiful Redemption.

Indeed, the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer is an expression of joy and gratitude for the great gift of the Redemption. Consider the opening antiphon for this feast, which is taken from Isaiah 61:10 and Psalm 88:2.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God.
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
and with the robe of justice He has covered me.

The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever:
I will show forth your truth with my mouth to generation and generation.

The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in the gospel today reveals to us the beautiful truth of God’s redemption:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. …
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3: 16-17).

God’s redemption shows that how God relates to us is simple: God loves everyone, even those who are not lovable, God welcomes everyone as they are.

I remembeer a quote from St Alphonsus Liguori, in his book, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ:

“Yes, my gentle Redeemer, let me say it, You are crazy with love! Is it not foolish for you to have wanted to die for me? But if You, my God, have become crazy with love for me, how can I not become crazy with love for you?”

God’s love for humankind is intense, indeed, crazy; in human standards, judging the way God loves us, one could easily say that God is a fool. God’s love is welcoming, always offering forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy despite humanity’s unworthiness, sinfulness, pride, belligerence and recalcitrance. In the infamous words of President Duterte, God is stupid.

God’s love and mercy is beyond human capacity.  It is manifested in the Crucified One, the One who ask God’s forgiveness for all those who maligned, scourged, crowned him with thorns and crucified him.

God’s crazy love shows us the way in which we have to reach out to others. To the extent that we ourselves will be called crazy and fools, we need to love others in abundance, unconditionally and beyond imagination. We are called to be God’s fools for God’s love and redemption.

What does it mean to live the crazy love of God in the face of the urgencies of our  contemporary world which is a deeply imbalanced world? On the one hand, there is a secure, sheltered, wealthy humanity, on the other hand, a humanity who is hungry and homeless, a humanity at the mercy of autocratic regimes, wars, powerful rulers, traffickers, a humanity at mercy of climate change – for which entire previously habitable zones are subject to rapid desertification, deforestation, devastating flood and typhoons.

Pope Francis insists that the political, economic and financial strategic choices in our times are the result of decisions that come from the heart of human beings who always have need of repentance and of being sensitized to a more supportive sense of justice and mercy. In other words, there is a need for a radical transformation of our socio-economic structures based on God’s crazy love for humanity. We need to transform our socio-political structures which benefits most of all thouse who are lost, weak, abandoned, deprived and least advantaged.

The redemption of God, however, ultimately concerns eternal life. God redeemed us not just for the brief span of our earthly life, but have marked us out for eternity. Thus, living God’s crazy love goes beyond our finite life here on earth. This also implies that our corporal works and spiritual works of mercy form a whole; they are distinctive and not separate; Jesus redemption is for the whole person.

Happy Feast Day of Most Holy Redeemer!

Advertisements

15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE LAW IS SIMPLE AND NEAR

Good-Samaritan

If you have lived in a barrio in the province, perhaps you may have experienced how being a neighbor means. Being a neighbor is to know someone not just their names, work and other peripherals but more so their needs, problems and aspirations. Being a neighbor is to share whatever you have like food, fruits of the harvest. Being a neighbor is reaching out to someone especially in their time of need.

One time I was invited by a friend to her condo unit. I asked her does she know the people in her neigboring units in the condo. She said no. Usually, in the condo, nobody knows anybody, everybody live their lives each to his/her own, she told me.

Perhaps, this is one of the saddest maladies of modern living. In a supposedly highly connected world we have lost connection with the closest people in our lives–our families, our neighbors. We have become distant to the people who are most physically near to us.

This is also the malady of our faith today. We have lost connection with the heart of our faith. We see our faith as a set of laws that is remote, if not alien, to the concrete reality of our daily lives.

In the First Reading of today’s 15th Sunday in ordinary time, Moses explains that God’s law is not so mysterious and remote. It is already in our mouths and hearts.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

This suggests that the law is no longer written on tablets of stone but engraved on the hearts of people

In the Gospel, a lawyer, an expert of the law, asks Jesus what is the most important law of all. Jesus asks the lawyer what the latter thinks. Being a typical lawyer, the man says, mechanically, the most important of all the laws:

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.

But again being the typical lawyer who seem bent on cross-examining Jesus, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer was talking more about the law as the law written on tablets of stone.

Unlike the lawyer, however, Jesus did not respond in a mechanical or legalistic way, but with a parable. But in the end, as we shall see, Jesus will show us the true meaning of the law and how the law is very close to our hearts.

So we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps, we have heard this parable many times. This is my most favorite parable of Jesus. In the parable, a man fell victim to robbers. They beat him terribly, take his money, and leave him lying in the road, half-dead. Three people happen to pass by and saw the man in need: a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite merely passed by leaving the man on the street. Only the Samaritan came to the aid of the hapless man. Incidentally, the Priest and the Levite are keepers of the law whereas the Samaritan is seen by many as disobedient to the law.

At the end of the parable, Jesus returns to the heart of the law. Jesus’ concern was not the abstract interpretation but how to practice the most important of all the laws, which he put into the question: “How am I a neighboor to someone in need?” The lawyer’s question was a more abstract question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns it into a practical question: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” In other words, the question of Jesus was a smack on the face of the lawyer who is an expert of the law: Who fulfilled the law in this situation? The lawyer could only answer, “The one who treated him with mercy.” It was not the temple priest nor the Levite who were strict guardians of the laws of purity but the outsider–the much maligned Samaritan who was seen as ignorant, and therefore, transgressor of the law, as the one who fulfilled the greatest law: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself!

Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan continues to be retold today. We are the new characters of this parable today. We are the modern day Priest, Levite or Good Samaritan. When someone is in grave need, do we stop whatever we are doing or do we just pass them by? How do we respond to someone in need?  Do we say, “I may get sued.” “Others will come to help.” “I’m in a hurry.” “The poor wretch should have planned for disaster.” “I am scared.”

We have a shortage of neighbor in our world today. We have become not neighbor but condominium dwellers. We live in our own ghettos. This is shown in our difficulty loving others because we do not understand “neighbor” as Jesus did. Neighbor for us means people we like, people who are on our side, who work for a living, and who mind their own business. Jesus redefines neighbor as the hated stranger who is down and out, challenging us to stop what we are doing and care for his need.

Who are the people in most need of Good Samaritans right now? The sick and the dying? The victims of EJK? The homeless? The hungry? The migrants? The trafficked? Whether they be large or small, friend or enemy, rich or poor, we can find them everywhere, calling us out of our comfort zone, making ourselves vulnerable in order to be present to someone different, desperate and diffident.

The law is not mysterious and remote to us. It is not up in the sky, nor across the sea. No, it is something very near to us. It is in whatever situation when we become neighbor to someone who is in need.

 

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: LOOKING AT THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF THE EUCHARIST

eucharist-joey-velasco
Last Supper – A Painting by Joey Velasco

Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. We believe that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the Eucharist sometimes we focus too much on the Eucharist as a ritual, an obligation or its theological abstraction such as transubstantiation. But the Eucharist is much more than these. The Eucharist that Jesus established, more importantly, ushers us into a new perspective of the world, a new way of life, a new vision. This solemnity, therefore, challenges us to look at the world through the eyes of the Eucharist.

In the gospel today about the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the disciples came to Jesus with the request to dismiss the people to go find food after a whole day listening to Jesus’ preaching. But Jesus challenged them with the question: “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Jesus’ summon or question to his disciples more than 2,000 years ago, continues to haunts us today.

There is more than enough food that is grown to feed everyone on this planet. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

More than 60,000 people will die of hunger on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Two-thirds of them will be children. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

Nearly one in five people worldwide is chronically malnourished—too hungry to lead a productive, active life. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

One-third of the world’s children are significantly underweight for their age. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The amount of money the world spends on weapons in one minute could feed 2,000 malnourished children for a year. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The Eucharist is about sharing, service and generosity. It is Jesus who first showed us this. Before Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist, Jesus lived first its meaning and implication by washing the disciples’ feet.  Jesus intended the Eucharist to be a memorial of his sacrifice and selfless service for all people especially the least and the last in this world. Jesus meant the Eucharist to be a celebration of God’s fervent wish that all should be well fed just like what happened on that plain when Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes. The Eucharist, a great gift from the same God that sent the manna in the desert, should strengthen the determination of both the hungry and the satisfied to do what it takes to eliminate hunger, poverty, despair, homelessness and brokenness.

Pope Francis, commenting on this same gospel passage, highlighted the radical demand of the Eucharist as placing our whole lives and resources, how little or small they are, to feed the hungry and those who have lesser in life.

In the face of the crowd’s needs, this is the disciples’ solution: everyone takes care of himself; dismiss the crowd. Many times we Christians have that same temptation; we don’t take on the needs of others, but dismiss them with a compassionate “May God help you” or a not-so-compassionate “Good luck.” …

What Jesus encouraged the disciples to do was an act of “solidarity”… placing at God’s disposal what little we have, our humble abilities, because only in sharing and giving will our lives be fruitful. …

At the same time, in receiving the Eucharist faithfully the Lord leads us to follow his path —that of service, sharing and giving; the little that we have, the little that we are, if shared, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.

Corpus Christi Homily, May 31, 2013

This solemnity is more than just understanding the meaning of the Eucharist and taking seriously the obligation to go to mass every Sunday. The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. As often as we receive the body and blood of Jesus, the Eucharist transforms our human hearts and minds into the heart and mind of Jesus, a Eucharistic heart and mind. To have the mind and heart of the Eucharist of Jesus is to imbibe solidarity; solidarity especially with the hungry, thirsty, homeless, those who are disadvantaged and the least who benefits from the fruits of the earth.

If only we did not just attend the Eucharist on Sunday but practice the demands of the Eucharist every day, if only we didn’t just celebrate the Eucharist within the walls of churches and cathedrals and went out of our churches to live out its meaning in the streets, the slums, the farms and the market, if only the Eucharist has permeated the mindset of kings and rulers of nations in governing their people then our world today would have been a much happier, fruitful and beautiful world where much lesser people are hungry, thirsty, homeless and desperate. There is lesser war and oppression, more time in multiplying the fruits of the earth for the benefit of all.

We cannot just attend the Eucharist and not be drawn into the agape of Christ. God’s self-sacrificing love in the Eucharist is so overflowing and bubbly that it is impossible that it not engulf us. Just like in love, we are absorbed into that love that we become that love and love becomes us; it becomes impossible to remain outside as mere spectator of this love. We partake of this love; we become in communion with it. We become love—self-sacrificing persons.

The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. It is entering a new time and space where we are transformed into the body of Christ—ready to be broken as a sacrifice for others and for the world. It is a powerful celebration which can transform us if we allow it to rend our hearts.

The Eucharist is not a static and mechanical ritual that is unaffected and insignificant in the midst of so many pain, evil and suffering in our world.  As the priest says at the end of the Eucharist: “Go in peace and proclaim the good news of our Lord,” the Eucharist is a mission; it is sending us into the world to transform the world according to the image of the Eucharist. A world in the image of the Eucharist is a world where there is overflowing generosity and service among all peoples following Jesus’ mandatus to love and serve one another.

 

TRINITY SUNDAY: GOD IS NOT A SELF BUT A RELATION

By Andrei Rublev - From https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54421

It’s Trinity Sunday. This is the most significant feast of our God: One God, three persons. This is the very core and most important mystery of our faith. However, it’s a dreaded day for Catholic preachers who is faced with the daunting task of preaching about the Trinity. Because of its utmost profundity, many preachers utilize analogies in an effort to explain in simple language the Trinity. Sometimes preachers use abstract concepts and devise mind boggling framework to explain the trinity. Despite all these attempts, at the end of the preaching and the celebrations, preachers and the congregation in the pews, more often than not, are left more bewildered that they do not want to talk and hear anything about the Trinity.

Sadly, this has become the trend in recent years. In recent years, there has been less talk about God as Trinity. Indeed, God as Trinity has suffered from an overly abstract appropriation, excessive humanism and rationalism. As American feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson comments, “[Trinity] has been neglected, literalized, treated like a curiosity, or analysed with conceptual acrobatics entirely inappropriate to its meaning.  Consequently, the doctrine has become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a wide scale.”[1] The German philosopher Immanuel Kant even came to the conclusion that “absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally.”[2]

But on Trinity Sunday, of all Sundays, we should not get discouraged nor run away from talking and proclaiming God as Trinity. Because the Trinity as the very core of our faith is also about the meaning of our lives, about who we truly are and our mission in this world.

The main problem, I think, why we do not get the Trinity is that we try to see, understand and talk about God as trinity according to our human categories and language. No human language or categories can ever fully talk about God. God cannot be colonized by any human faculty. We cannot make God in our own image (reverse creation). We cannot, for example, understand the Trinity as three persons if we use our own understanding of persons as an individual centre of consciousness and freedom. The persons in God is not an autonomous self but a relational self.

The persons in God the Trinity is the person that is totally focused on the other, living totally for the other, welcoming totally the other into one’s own, making room totally for the other, and totally loving the other. Because of this, God is one and three persons. Perfect selflessness. Perfect unity in diversity. As the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century declared:

“[T]the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son.”

Thus, when God the Father created the cosmos, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Father. When God the Son–Jesus Christ–redeemed us on the cross, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Son. When God the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and set them on fire in proclaiming the gospel, God the Father and God the Son was entirely with God the Holy Spirit.

In other words, God is a relationship, God is a community, and God is love. God is ever loving and ever helping each other, ever forgiving and ever welcoming the other, ever relating, ever cooperating and ever communicating with each other. Thus, God is not a noun but a verb. God is not static but dynamic.

I am reminded of South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu’s speech regarding the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Tutu said that Ubuntu is an idea present in African spirituality that says “I am because we are”, or we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, health and faith are always lived out among others, an individual’s well being is caught up in the well being of others. [3]

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. We are not merely individuals, but persons in community. We were created in the imago Dei to be in relation. As American feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna affirms, we are “meant to exist as persons in communion … not persons in isolation or withdrawal or self- centredness.”[4]  As we are created in God the Trinity, we cannot isolate ourselves, nor become fully autonomous, nor disconnect ourselves from others and God’s creation. “I am because we are!”

As God is a community, relationship and love, we ought to live as a community, opening ourselves always to the other, always relating and cooperating with one another. The Holy Trinity is the model of the family, community, relationships and all collective endeavors.  As God is one and connected to each other, we are also one, we are interconnected to each other; we are not just interconnected to each other but to whole of God’s creation. As God is unity and diversity we should be united even as we open ourselves to diversity and celebrate difference.

Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff even declares the Trinity as the basis of liberation,

“From the communion of the three divine Persons derive impulses to liberation: of each and every human person, of society, of the church … Society offends the Trinity by organising itself on a basis of inequality and honours it the more it favours sharing and communion for all.” [5]

While the British missiologist Leslie Newbigin proclaims that salvation can only be found in the Trinitarian communion,

There can be no salvation for human beings except in relatedness. No one can be made whole except by being restored to the wholeness of that being-in-relatedness for which God made us and the world and which is the image of that being-in- relatedness which is the being of God Himself. [6]

The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not what the Trinity is but how God the Trinity lived.  The whole focus of Trinity Sunday is how we experience and participate in the circle of love of the Trinity. The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not whether or not to understand the Trinity but how to live and follow the example of God the Trinity. As the Nike ad declares, “just do it!”

 


 

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” Theology Today 34, no. 3 (1997), 299.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Der Streit der Fakultäten, A 50, 57, quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: S.C.M. Press, 1981), p. 6.

[3] Giampiero (October 13, 2007). “Breaking News: Madonna’s Malawian Doc. Is Titled ‘I Am Because We Are'”. DrownedMadonna. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007.

[4] Catherine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973), 383.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 236.

[6] Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995., 70.

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE NEWNESS OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION

shot-by-cerqueira-1325092-unsplash
Photo by Cerqueira on Unsplash

The resurrection of Jesus brought about a profound sense of newness. It inaugurated new ways, new lifestyles, new vision, new values and attitudes. At the same time, the resurrection of Jesus, entailed a different path, a different lifestyle, a different community, a different religion from the one that people have become used to. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the very reason for the birth of Christianity. If not for the resurrection, Christianity would not have been born as a new religion separate from Judaism.

In the first reading of today’s 5th Sunday of Easter, from the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after they proclaimed the good news to many cities and made a considerable number of disciples. When they came home to the community of Antioch in Syria, they were “commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished.”

Tradition holds that the first gentile (non-Jews) church was founded in Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). It was from Antioch that St. Paul started on his missionary journeys. More significantly, it is in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).

Why were they called Christians? They were called Christians because they were different. At the same time, they lived their faith in a new way. Unlike the traditional Jews who were mainly legalistic and exclusive, the disciples of Jesus Christ embraced and welcome everyone, Jews and gentiles alike, not just the rich but most especially the poor and ordinary people. They proclaimed not only in word but much more in deed, practising what they preach and living as communities which became models of communion and fellowship.

The second reading, from the book of Revelation, proclaims the radical newness of the world that God will established at the end of times. This is the fulfillment of the new world which is contained in the promise of the resurrection of Jesus. “See, I make all things new,” says the One who sat on the throne. The second reading is about a vision of a new earth, a new Jerusalem, in which “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”

The new Jerusalem will be made up of people who love one another. People will not watch in this holy city as their brothers and sisters languish in poverty and hunger, nor will they attack each other in various forms of inhumane treatment, torture, and war. This whole new world – “a new heaven and a new earth,” “new Jerusalem,” – is the ultimate fruit of living the resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel reading from John’s account of the Last Supper represents the heart of what is going on in the Christian mission flowing from Easter. Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus’ love for them and their imitation of Jesus’ love for each other will be the deepest form of evangelization: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34).

The “newness” of this command is difficult to specify. The command to love is found everywhere in the Bible, not just in the New Testament but Old Testament as well. In his farewell address to Esau and Jacob, for example, Isaac commanded: “Be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him . . . loving each other as themselves” (The Book of Jubilees 36:4-5). Similar sentiments are also found in the New Testament (1 Th 4:9; Rm 13:9; Gal 5:14; Mk 12:31).

What is evident in all these passages, however, is that love is extended only to other members of the inner circle, the community, and not to those outside. Whereas, God’s love that Jesus commanded to the disciples to imitate is spontaneous, unmotivated, directed to sinners and others unworthy of love. Israel experienced this love of old (Dt 7:6-8). In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s love is known in a totally new dimension.

Jesus’ new commandment to love calls us to love to the extent and in the manner Jesus loved us. Our love is to be the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. It is a love that embraces all, those who are different from us, even our enemies. It is this kind of love which brings Jesus glory. It is this kind of love which brings God glory. It is this kind of love which enables us to share in that same glory.

As Jesus commanded his disciples, he commands us now, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

How do we measure up to Jesus’ commandment today?

Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

While some authors have answered this question from a strictly spiritual point of view, the original Greek text of the Gospel provides further insights.

via Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

Novena prayer for those seeking a spouse — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

This prayer was recently published by the Catholic Church in England and Wales.Oddly enough, in today’s world of modern global communication, finding a spouse has only gotten more difficult. For those called to the vocation of marriage, God is ready to lead you to someone who will be an aid to your sanctification. Not everyone Read More…

via Novena prayer for those seeking a spouse — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

The Shrine and the True Meaning of Love

Legaspi06

As we come close to Valentine’s Day, lots of signs of love are all around us. Shopping malls conspicuously display hearts of all sizes and designs in their mad scramble to attract consumers. Roses and chocolates are particularly hot commodities. The post office and the internet are flooded with love letters and memes of love and devotion for one’s beloved.

Here at the shrine, lovers and couples have made the shrine a favorite meeting place. It is so lovely to see lovers and couples not just meeting but praying together. Our Mother of Perpetual has perhaps witnessed the expressions of love and devotion between thousands of lovers in the hallowed sanctuary of the shrine. The shrine may have easily fit the setting of an old popular sentimental Tagalog kundiman (love song), Sa Lumang Simbahan,

Sa lumang simbahan (In the old church)
Aking napagmasdan (I witnessed)
Dalaga’t binata (Young men and women)
Ay nagsusumpaan (Promising to each other)
sila’y nakaluhod (They knelt)
Sa harap ng altar (In front of the altar)

lovers-shrine

Many relationships began and developed at the shrine. Like the story of Jess and Gemma Granadosin. Gemma has, for a long time, prayed to meet the man who will love her forever. Gemma met Jessie in Baclaran. It was love at first sight for Jess. They fell in love. The shrine became their constant meeting place. Now both of them are happily married. Not only that their love life grew but also their spiritual life. When Gemma became an usher of the shrine, Jess joined her too. Both of them served Our Mother of Perpetual Help as ushers of the shrine.

However, the shrine and its environs have also been covertly taken advantage by unscrupulous individuals for activities that defile the very meaning of love. Some notorious individuals have taken advantage of the large gathering of devotees in the compound of the shrine to do their flesh trade. Outside the shrine, there are abortifacients being sold openly on the streets.

Time and again, we have strongly condemned these abuses in the name of love. Indeed, love has become one of the most abused words. So often, we can easily say I love you to the other but fail miserably in proving that love in action. Learning the art of loving entails constant commitment; indeed, it is a lifetime mission.

We cannot, however, truly learn to love unless we go back to the very author of love—God. It is God who loved us first. God loved us because God is love. Before God loved us, God has lived that love first in Godself–three divine persons yet one God. We see in the one God, three persons that God’s love is completely selfless and focused on the other. It is because of this love that God sent his son to share God’s love to us and give us abundant life.

valentine

Valentine’s day is not just a day for lovers. It is a day for all of us who are called to participate and partake of God’s love. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, may we truly learn and live the love that God has shown us. May we learn from Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help, who is our model in loving God and others.

31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE ♥ OF CHRISTIANITY

sunset hands love woman
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.