Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pro-Choice, Pro-Life

I am pro-choice.
I choose God.
I choose life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

30th Sunday in OT, Year A

The Revolution of LOVE

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, people thought he would be a tough one, rigid and traditionalist, concerned with the institution of the Church, putting the Church in a defensive mode. They even ridiculed him intending the pun, “German Shepherd” for a German Pope who they thought would be on the guard, and nothing of the sort of the charismatic and revolutionary John Paul II, his predecessor. Not long after Pope Benedict XVI was made Vicar of Christ, he wrote his very first encyclical, and it was “Deus caritas est” – God is love. Nothing can be more charismatic of the faith and revolutionary for the world than this very basic but essential confession of faith that God is Love. The Pope affirmed the very nature of God, the heart of God, the most basic truth about God, that God is Love. God has loved us with the passion of eros, a love that keeps on loving and keeps on desiring the good of the beloved. God has loved us with the depth of agape, a love that is self-giving, that shares life to the beloved in a self-gift. Jesus exemplified the love of God, eros and agape.

Today, we hear Jesus declaring the two greatest commandments: Love God and love our neighbor. It is interesting to note that Jesus’s summary was not a prohibition, but rather an imperative. The Law of God is not restraining. The Law of God is enabling. The Law of God enables the good that disables the bad. The Law of God fulfills the best of us, and leaves no room for the worse in us.

The question of the law then is how to love. Jesus tells us, “first of all, love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Love God first, foremost and fully. Last Sunday we were told, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and give to God what belongs to God.” The roman coin bore the image of Caesar, and so it had to be given back to Caesar. But we asked, what bears the image of God? We recalled Genesis which said that men and women are created in the “image and likeness” of God. So what do we give to God? Our very selves, our whole selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we owe everything to God. What we should offer to God then is the gift of ourselves.

A total gift is also what is asked by the greatest commandment. To love God is to give him total allegiance, total control of our lives. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola exemplifies this:

Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty. Take all my will, my mind, my memory. All things I hold, and all I own are thine. Thine was the gift; to thee, I all resign. Do thou direct, and govern all and sway. Do what thou will. Command; and I’ll obey. Only thy grace, thy love on me bestow. These make me rich. All else will I forego.

“You shall love the Lord you God with all you heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” There is however a twin to the love of God. Jesus tells us, “Love your neighbor.” If we truly love God, we cannot but love our neighbor. The First Letter of John puts it in this way: “If anyone says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar; (in the Bible, the devil is the father of lies) for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 Jn 4:20) Benedict XVI writes that love can be commanded because we have been loved first. Not that love can ever be forced. Not that one can ever be commanded to love. It is rather because being loved enables and transforms the beloved to also share and give love. The Pope wrote, “God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He love us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first,” love can also blossom as a response within us.” I can love because I have been loved. The more I love, the more I grow in the love given me. A popular action song puts it rather simply but clearly:

Love is something that you giveth away, giveth away giveth away. And it come right back to you. It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t get any. Spend it. Lend it. Give it away. And it comes right back to you.

Love grows through love. And this love is not simply a feeling. It is rather concrete. The first reading from the book of Exodus reminds us of the corporal works of mercy:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To shelter the homeless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

And we should add the spiritual works of mercy:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

By these, we love our neighbor just as our God has loved us.

On a final note, although love of God and others are part of our very being, sometimes, we neglect and refuse to do so. Maybe because at times, we only look at ourselves, and love only ourselves. One popular ballad seems to be the anthem of many: “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Me, myself and l. We tend to trust ourselves alone, seek to please and pleasure ourselves alone. We relate with each other in view of our selfish interests. Come to think of it, there is nothing wrong with loving ourselves. But we have to look at the bigger picture. If we look at the two greatest commandments, where do we find ourselves? In the love of God and in the love of neighbor. True love of the self is love of God and love of neighbor. Relating this to previous Sunday’s Gospel, we should remember that we are created in the image and likeness of God. If we love ourselves, we also should primarily love God of whom we are but an image. If we love ourselves, and if we love God, we should love others, who like us, are made in the image and likeness of God.

And if we all love ourselves in this way, putting God above all else, yes above all power, above all fame, above all wealth, above all treasures this earth has ever known, if we relate with one another in love, not in arrogance, or violence, or competition, or distrust, or discrimination, we will see a world transformed. And the love and good will we give, we receive back.

God is love. God has loved us. Since we have been loved first, then we are able and are called to love one another. What could be more basic and revolutionary at the same time?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Grapes and Tenants of the Vineyard

27th Sunday in OT, Year A, 2011

We have two similar parables in our readings today.  From Isaiah we read of the parable of the unfruitful vineyard.  The vine grower has cultivated, watered and nurtured the vineyard.  But the grapes were sour, the vineyard was unproductive.  The vine grower asks, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?”

Sometimes we also find ourselves in such disappointing, discouraging situations.  We toiled and worked hard, but our labors seem to be futile.  We loved and loved, and our love is unrequited.  We tried and tried, but we do not succeed.  We also ask, “What more should I have done?  Were all that I have done and given not enough?”

Although this is a relevant lesson, this is not all that there is in the parable in Isaiah.  This parable is about God’s offer of his live and love, his offer of the covenant, and the response of the people to God’s offer.  It is addressed to a people who had rejected God in spite of his goodness.  Like the owner of the vine, God has showered his people with his love, but they have continued to reject his offer.  They have continued to disregard and disobey him.  Like the vine grower, God asks, “What more was for me to do for my people that I had not done?”

This parable is taken up by Jesus.  Jesus is the most that God has done for his people.  The familiar John 3:16 is God’s answer to the earlier question.  “For God so loved the world that in the fullness of time he sent his only begotten Son so that all who will believe in him will not die, but rather, have eternal life.”  Jesus relates in the Gospel parable that there was a landowner who set up his vineyard so well, and entrusted this to tenants.  The tenants, however, although they were only tenants wanted the vineyard for themselves.  They wanted to be owners, not tenants.  At the time of vintage, the landowner sent his servants to gather his share.  But the tenants mistreated and even killed his servants.  He sent another delegation of servants, but the servants were treated no better by the tenants.  He so trusted the tenants so he sent his son.  But even the son was disregarded by the tenants.  They kill the son. 

This parable is addressed to the leaders of the Jewish community at the time of Jesus.  Jesus exposed the leaders’ rejection of Jesus.  He also exposed their violent schemes.  Here Jesus prefigures his own death.  He is the Son sent by the owner, but whom, as the tenants acted, the leaders will kill.

The parable of Isaiah illustrating the vineyard’s unproductiveness ends with the ruin of the vineyard.  The parable of Jesus illustrating the tenant’s usurping ownership of the vineyard, and the violence the tenants did, ends with the word that the vineyard shall be taken away from the tenants. 

While the parables speak of the Israelites and the leaders of the people, the parables also speak to us.  Like the vineyard, we have also been so generously and gratuitously cultivated, watered and nurtured by God.  We have been so richly blessed by God.  The greatest blessing we have received is Jesus.  We have to ask ourselves, “What grapes do we bear?”  Are we fruitful?  Are we producing the fruits of the Kingdom of God?  From the second reading,  we are asked, are we bearing fruit in “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious”? 

If we do not bear fruit in goodness, and reject God’s offer, we will also end in ruin.  Not that God wants that.  Not even because God would punish us.  It is rather that without God, we simply are nothing.  If we reject God’s offer of his goodness, we have nothing left, but our sorry selves.  God created and nurtured us, and apart from God, we are nothing, and cannot do anything of true worth.

Like the tenants, we are also stewards of God’s many gifts.  God asks us to give him his share.  Do we give God his fair share of our life, time, talent, treasure?  Do we invest in our spiritual development?  Do we responsibly take part in the growth of our parish, of our Church? 

If we do not give God his share of our life, time, talent and treasure, if we neglect to invest time and effort in prayer and the liturgy, our faith weakens, and even the little faith that we have can be disturbed and snatch away by the evil one.  If we do not take responsibility in nurturing our parish life, our Church, our parish will not prosper, and the Church is impoverished.  The United States, thankfully is still home to fervent and true Catholics.  But if we do not take care of our Catholic Faith in America, if we compromise and not give due recognition and place of Faith, the place of God in our communal life, and in our laws, God forbid, that one day we would find our society and nation devoid of its soul.

God generously offers us his life and love.  We are God’s vineyard.  We are God’s tenants.  We are called to bear fruit in holiness.  We are called to be responsible and committed stewards of God’s gifts.  God will not force his offer on us.  He gave us free will to make a decision for God. 

The example of Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint whose feast is celebrated every 28th of September is worth noting, not because I am Filipino, but because his example I think illustrates our needed commitment and conviction to the gift of faith that we have received.

Lorenzo Ruiz is a Filipino-Chinese mestizo, a lay man who was working as secretary and sacristan at his parish in Binondo, Manila.  When the Dominicans sent a group of missionaries to Japan, Lorenzo joined them.  At first, it was only to flee from a false accusation of murder made against him; but also with missionary zeal since he very well knew that what awaits him there is not a bed of roses.  As they evangelized in Japan, they were arrested.  At the court, Lorenzo was given a chance to renounce his Catholic Christian Faith.  If he denounces his faith, he will save his life.  The response of Lorenzo is recorded in the documents of the court.  He said, “I am a Christian and this I profess until the hour of my death; and for God I shall give my life…. As a Christian and for God I shall give my life….  And if I had a thousand lives, I will give them all to God.

This Sunday, let us pray that we may choose God.  May we choose to follow Christ and be always faithful to him.  Amen.