Loving God

During the time of Jesus Christ, 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 neighborin 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 neighboras 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. Youcannot 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. It is building an intimate relationship with Jesus 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 First Above All Else

Living a life while trying (and trying) to be faithful and obedient to God gave me several insights in life. Among these is that as you grow older, there’s a realization that not all of the time you and your friends are similar in your attitudes or beliefs towards politics, money, or fame. Still, you still respect each other and agree that there are earthly leaders that have responsibilities over us but accept that God has spiritual dominion over our lives. Recognition of our worldly rulers does not stop us from allowing God to rule over our lives. 

In the Gospel (Mt. 22:15-21),the Pharisees, together with the Herodians, sent their followers in trying to entrap Jesus. Yet the Lord knew of their malicious intent  telling them,  

Why are you testing me, you hypocritesShow me the coin that pays the census tax.” 
Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.”

Jesus responded with wisdom,

Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Some of us may experience this in our lives. There are some people who try to trick us into accepting something beyond our morals and ethics. They try to demand more from us with malice and treachery such that if we aren’t careful, we might fall into their trap. It can eventually cause worries and anxieties while others may even lose their patience and composure. Thus, we have to be aware of these people around us. We could copy Christ’s response with truth and Godly wisdom. There’s nothing in this universe that can defeat the wisdom and power of God, as only He can overcome deceit, malice and gamesmanship. No other power can penetrate and stop every human and evil act of deceit and betrayal. As the prophet Isaiah said in the First Reading (Is. 45:1, 4-6),

I am the LORD and there is no otherthere is no God besides me.”

Therefore, we should place God at the center of everything so that we draw faith, strength and courage from Him. When we do, we can depend on being warned of these evil schemes in advance and defend ourselves and our faith with God’s strength. Only God’s power can protect us from any treacherous scheme that evil and malicious people throw on us. 

As St. Paul reassures us in the Second Reading (1 Thes. 1: 1-5b),

For our Gospel did not come to you in word alonebut also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have to accept both the earthly rulers and the spiritual power and dominion of God. We have to acknowledge both realities but God must come first. As His messengers, we also want to develop a community of believers and create it into something that puts God above all else. Our faith in Him does not stop us from exercising our duties as citizens but neither should these duties prevent us from putting God first. 

Let us reflect on how we put God at the center of our lives and allowing His Word to guide us through the treacherous waters of our earthly pilgrimage. 

Let us pray that God’s Spirit guide and protect us from the malice that others set on us.

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

Are You Ready for the Feast?

Attending a wedding feast demands preparation; from the clothes you wear, to the gifts you’ll bring to give the newly-weds, and to the time needed to reach the destination before the Mass starts. It is an event that is both well-thought of and brings excitement to the guests. You cannot go there shabbily-dressed and looking out of place.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt. 22:1-14), we hear the proclamation of the Wedding Feast in Heaven, when Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables saying, 

“…the kingdom of Heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.”

Listening to the Lord at that time may have made His listeners wonder why the invited guests ignored the invitation. Butthe king 

“…sent his servants a second time but some of them still ignored the invitation, while the rest even went to the extent of killing his servants. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed the murderers and burned their city. Then he extended the invitations to the feast to whomever they find on the streets, bad and good alike and the hall was filled with guests. When the king came to meet the guests, he saw a man there not properly dressed in a wedding garment.” 

This Gospel tells us three things: 1) there are those who reject the invitation, 2) there are those who rejected with hostility, and 3) being invited to the feast comes with certain obligations.The first two are challenges that we may have encountered in our missions and ministries. Some people who are invited instead of welcoming the invitation of God, react indifferently and reject the invitation. Others even react with hostility. What a waste! God’s invitation is a precious one, considering that we are invited to participate in the fullness of life. However, many turn it down maybe because it requires total submission to God and thus requires humility, conversion and selflessness. When we have these attitudes, these enable us to regularly go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, thus “dressing up well” for the Feast. 

Today, let us reflect on our own conversion and mission. Do you accept God’s will fully into your life? In bringing God’s message to others, do you do it with zeal and enthusiasm?

May the Lord continue to grant us the courage, strength and wisdom to persevere in our mission and faith especially during these trying times. 

May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.” (Eph. 1:17-18)

Staying the Course

The Philippines is an agricultural country. As such, a lot of its people are in one way or the other connected to the land, either from handed-down land or from ancestors working out of it. The desire to plant the earth also makes people go into farming after working long years in corporate environments.I have friends who did that after retiring from work. The serenity and quiet of the countryside is an inspiration for weary souls aching to have those moments away from the hustle and bustle of urban work.

The Gospel setting this Sunday (Mt. 21: 33-43) — the vineyard — as described by the Prophet Isaiah (First Reading Is. 5: 1-7), is used by the Lord Jesus to describe the vineyard’s wine press, hedge, and watchtower telling that Israel’s religious leaders, the tenants in His parable, have learned nothing from Isaiah or Israel’s past. 

When vintage time drew near, the landowner sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.”

Instead of producing bountiful harvests, they’ve killed the owner’s servants, the prophets “sent to gather the harvest of faithful souls”. God is portrayed as the owner while Israel is the vineyard. A favorite vine, the “chosen people” squandered the chance that God wanted for them. (cf: Catholic Daily Reflections)

“Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” 

This parable tells of the reality of evil. In places where agriculture is the main source of livelihood, people are always on alert to watch their farm, and the owners normally assign those whom they trust to take care of their landholdings. In the Gospel story, upon hearing of the news the landowner in the parable must be so shocked. The Lord said,

What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

The response is quite frightening to say the least but it also means that evil will be met with strength and courage of the Holy Spirit. In the course of our mission and work, there may be times we feel the wrath of God Almighty is the only answer when confronted with evil. 

This is the challenge for us to stay the course, to stay fruitful in the vineyard of God.  In all these, we need to pray unceasingly to the Holy Spirit for guidance, protection and strength.

Let us not be afraid, but be comforted by the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading (Phil. 4:6-9),

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

Today, let us reflect on the situations when we are confronted with evil in the course of our daily life.

Lord God, grant me the grace, courage and strength to confront evil when necessary, according to Your Holy Will. Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God, I trust in You.

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