Loving God

During the time of Jesus, with so many laws being imposed by the religious leaders on the people, the question as to which commandment is the greatest was a very tricky question. Even the Pharisees and the Sadducees can’t agree on the answer, such that in order to trap him, a scholar of the law, a Pharisee; took it as an opportunity to ask Jesus the question:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22: 34-40)

If the Lord had answered differently, He would have taken sides for one group against the other. Jesus’ answer however, goes beyond this argument into a real life spent loving God and neighbor (in the same manner as loving one’s self). Also, He emphasizes that knowing the answer without living it is not enough and is not the way to holiness and obedience to God.

But can we love God without loving our neighbor?

In the Old Testament it was revealed that Israel knew that one cannot love God without loving other people, as they are created in His image and likeness. The love of God is to be manifested in love of neighbor. The neighbor in this context is a fellow Jew (Lv 19: 17-18), which Jesus abolished, in effect breaking down the shortsightedness and many other misunderstandings at that time. He defined neighbor as those who are in need (Lk. 10: 29-35). He emphasizes that love of God is foremost, but loving one’s neighbor has to be done as well for it to be real. One cannot be separated from the other. You cannot just say long prayers, hear Masses, and recite novenas without doing something for the poor and the needy in the community. Many of us feel comfortable with prayers only, while doing nothing for the last, the least and the lost.

Loving God therefore starts with letting Him fill our hearts and letting Him love us. Building a relationship with Him to allow Him to fill our thoughts, our hearts and our soul. In so doing, we will get out of our comfort zones, do the things we don’t even feel comfortable doing, but because of our love for Him, we will eagerly do.

Let us pray for the grace of knowing and thinking like Christ, and that we may be able to see God in others and acknowledge that we can’t love God genuinely without obeying the second commandment.

“I love you, Lord, my strength.” (Ps. 18: 2)

God Above All!

Being a big basketball fan make me watch games of my favorite teams (and their competition as well). When I was younger this was an issue, especially when I was still attending my first Christian Life Program. In fact, one of the reasons that made me miss sessions was when my favorite team was playing important games. These brought me guilt, such that it came to a point that I made that conscious decision to give priority to matters of the Spirit over that of this world.

The Gospel today reminds us to accept and acknowledge the dominion of God in our lives. While we are exhorted to recognize the authority of duly-constituted authorities, Jesus reminds us God comes first. Our Lord seemingly assures us that God has put everything in place, and to a certain extent where we have to obey those responsible for us whether government, workplace, community, or any other institution we become part of, that is because it’s just how things work. We all have a role to play and we just have to deal with it rightly.

In all these, we have to remember: Who is more important?

We must acknowledge therefore that everything we do is our service to God and that we live for a power that is far above and greater than anything in this universe. We’ve got to have humility that whatever we believe in our daily lives, the rewards we aspire for, the decisions we make, and the goodness we do — is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam — for God’s greater glory. In reality it’ll not be as simple as that though. There will come a time or in many instances in life where we have to take a stand. In these moments, we only have to remember that God is our only God, there is no other. (Is. 45: 5)

May all people know and remember that there is none besides God, He is the LORD, there is no other!

“Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” (cf Phil. 2: 15b-16a)

Enjoy Life’s Moments

When my daughter Alexa was invited by her school, the Ateneo, for a testimonial dinner to celebrate her passing the Ateneo College Entrance Test with flying colors, everyone in the family felt so excited. A special invitation card came together with the details of an afternoon program highlighting the different colleges of the University for her possible interest, since by virtue of her being one of those who topped the examinations she was also allowed to choose courses other than her original Health Sciences option. This culminated with the testimonial dinner, entertained by no less than one of their famous musical groups performing live.

When someone invites us for a meal it means we must be special to them. In ancient times, agreements were sealed over meals. Usually the norm is, you invite people whom you have established some friendly relationships already or when you wish to establish friendly relationships.

The readings today show how our Creator loves His children as only a Father can. We are a people who have real human needs for friendship, joy, and companionship. People who have no one loving, them feel deep sadness which could lead to loneliness and depression. We all need to be accepted, included and loved. These needs are what the Lord wants for us as well.

As we grew up, our lives became more complicated and after getting the businesses and the jobs we desired, we started to accumulate material possessions in the hope of being able to provide a sense of security for ourselves and our families. Why is it then that despite these, many of us still feel stressed, anxious, afraid, or depressed? What is it that is literally making us sad? Do you remember when you were still younger, you were happier even if you had lesser possessions? If you notice, later in life when you started your career, you worked, worked, and worked to be “successful” and accumulate gadgets, clothing, and other material possessions. Eventually, the new becomes old, the enthusiasm is sapped of its energy — and so you still end up sad and miserable. New set of anxieties creep in as your family grow, and so you continue to pursue earning more, acquiring more, and eventually before you know it, your lifestyle becomes more expensive. This can raise up the level of stress, depression, and unhappiness if you aren’t aware of it. When this happens, your sadness can become frequent and normal. You become unhappy.

In the Gospel, the king invited many guests to the wedding feast but they refused to come, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest even laid hold of his servants, mistreated and killed them. They failed in identifying what was important at that time. Similarly, this is how we miss on our life. We feel we need to work harder to provide for our families and so we just forget the more important matters in life. We miss living it, actually!

Our lifestyles require us to follow a strict schedule, so much so we hop from one activity to another without enjoying the moments of the more important matters. Among others, we fail to attend the graduation of our daughter, the championship game of our son, or even our spouse’s birthday.

Like the man in today’s Gospel who was not dressed in a wedding garment, without our realizing it, we come unprepared for the wedding feast; the important celebrations in our lives. It shows our lack of respect for God and other people, as we place them behind the “other” matters. What a miserable failure! What is sad is that once time is gone, it’s gone forever. You can’t get it back. How many of my friends just woke up one day and realized that all their children were already grown up and gone to their own families? As time is fleeting and indeed passes by quickly, so we have to enjoy the precious moments with family and friends.

The same thing can happen to our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We are thus, being reminded to not lose sight of the things that matter the most.

Take it from St. Paul who said,

“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4: 12-13)

“I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (cf Ps. 23: 6)

Handling the Pain of Rejection

The Gospel today tells us rejection is a part of life. Jesus knows from His experience with the religious leaders of Israel being hostile, to the point of plotting to kill Him. The Lord said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (Mt. 21: 42-43)

Being entrusted with something also brings in corresponding responsibility. It isn’t by coincidence that one is endowed with talent, wealth, or even an abundance of earthly looks; there are reasons why God has created you to be such. You are created for a purpose and thus, thoughtful conscience requires that you also pay back to God through others this goodness. You mustn’t lay all these to waste by neglecting to serve and help those in need. Have you noticed that you become more joyful when you share your happiness with others? Take note, when you share the joy, when you make others happy like you, you’ve started to become an inspiring person. And it brings more fulfillment in the end!

Otherwise when you don’t share, you’re actually rejecting God’s graciousness. You’re choosing to be selfish in sharing what gifts you have to others who are in need. You may even cause pain and suffering when you are proud and overprotective of yourself by denying others the graces of God. Especially when the ones we ignore are family and or our friends, rejection becomes more painful and will affect them more than we can imagine.

According to fMRI studies, the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking). According to Psychologist Guy Winch, in our ancestral history as a hunter/gatherer, “being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence, as we were unlikely to survive for long alone.” Evolutionary psychologists think that the brain must have developed an early warning system to alert us when we sense a risk for ostracism. Since people generally craved for attention, those who experienced rejection as more painful gained an evolutionary advantage, as they were more likely to learn and correct their behavior, and more likely to remain in the community.

As human beings, we all have a fundamental need to belong, thus; Jesus must have been hurt so much after feeling the pain of rejection. In this stage of His ministry, the Lord was telling the religious leaders at that time to change their attitude towards Him. He even portrayed correctly the extent of rejection — after killing the servants, even the heir being killed in the end. It must have felt dreadful and terrifying, considering that it’s His own death that is being planned by the Scribes and the Pharisees. Yet, He is so focused and faithful to the mission entrusted to Him by God the Father. He had to endure the disconnection and found solace in prayer to soothe the emotional pain. Imagine: How much pain and sadness Jesus endured (and is constantly enduring) for us in the Cross?

We’ll all have tears, pains and sorrows. When you’re happy now because everything is alright, be conscious that things will not always be like that. There will be painful experiences that life will still bring us. There will be anxieties and uncertainties. Yet, through it all, we can choose to be happy and positive. We can be certain that our Lord — who is gracious, all-good, and comforting — will be there for us in His splendor and majesty. He’ll be there cheering and comforting us in our moments of difficulties. He’s in with the people we encounter: our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues at work, and even more in the ordinary people we meet, every single day. Did He not tell us 386 times that we shouldn’t be afraid? Our God is here with us today, as He was yesterday, tomorrow, and forever will be.

Whenever we encounter a mournful experience, it’s our turn to prove we are faithful and won’t reject Him even in the most difficult moments of our lives. Let’s pray and reach out to Christ even more.

As St. Paul assures us,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4: 6-7)

“I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (cf Jn. 15:16)

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

A friend who is often sought to speak was asked to talk on Healthy Living. Upon receiving the invitation, he almost shrunk in his seat (he is several pounds over his ideal weight). He said, “How can I be effective in my talk, when I can’t even show it? Yes, I can talk about the topic, but how can I be true to what I say?” Indeed! It is who we are, what we do, rather than what we say that’s more important.

In the Gospel, after the man said to the first son and said, ‘Go out and work in the vineyard today’, the first son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir’, but did not go. (Mt. 21: 28 – 32)

Many times in a single day we are confronted with choices to make, crossroads; these involve our family life, relationships, work, traffic situations and anything in-between. Often we know the right thing to do, but yet we often choose to do the other thing, putting our own before others. And we’re not even children, we are adults who are supposed to know what’s the right thing to do. Sadly, the world today is littered with people who say they will do something, and then choose to do whatever they want. They talk so saintly, they criticize others for being “not as good as they are”, and yet, are often doing things differently.

The message this Sunday speaks about putting God first above all, doing the right thing, honoring our commitments, and choosing to do what is for the greater good. We are exhorted to choose love: to love God, to love others. It is also about having the courage to own up our mistakes and take responsibility, repent, and choose to do what is right. It may be difficult but it is the right thing to do.

St. Paul aptly tells us in the Second Reading:

“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] for those of others.” (Phil 2: 3-4)

With the attitude of simply choosing to love others through our actions, we will often achieve doing the better thing without even realizing it.

“My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn. 10:27)