Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Love Saves, Law Enslaves!

It was God who gave Moses the Ten Commandments. They were given to guide the Israelites towards fulfilling the covenant they had with God; Yahweh will be their God, and Israel will be God's people. God promised to love and protect Israel. In turn, Israel must worship only one God. Together with the ten commandments were other commandments that will further develop the love and covenant relationship between Israel and God. The fulfillment of the commandments lies in the faithfulness and obedience of the Israelites. It is a sign of Israel's continuous recognition of God. The goal is to establish a relationship that will later be governed by love and not just obedience of the law. God knew that man need to be guided in their relationship with each other and with Him. God hopes that man would recognize His own love in them. Having experienced being loved by LOVE Himself, God hopes that man would reciprocate in his full capacity to love God too!

The above is the spirit of the commandments. Following the commandments alone does not bring into fulfillment the purpose of God. Mere practice of the laws may bring man to righteousness. To set the laws as the only standard not only limits what man can not do but also what he can do. The laws are no doubt still the Word of God. But Jesus saw that they had enslaved rather than freed the Israelites, in our case, us. Obeying the laws should help us open more ourselves to the riches and depth of human relationship. Spiritual perfection is our ultimate destiny and not just fulfillment of given laws. Words are not enough to capture everything about human relations, much more our relations with God. After obeying all the given laws, we are expected to finally enter the law of love. The law had become love. The letter of the law evaporates into the aroma of love that consumes the lover and inebriates the beloved. The words of the law are not spelled anymore but lived.

The case of the rich young man comes into mind. He approached the Lord Jesus asking what good must he do to attain eternal life? The Lord answered that if he wishes to enter life, he must keep the commandments. The rich young man confidently answered that he had observed them all. Jesus then commanded the young man to sell all that he had and give them to the poor. We know the story. He went away very sad for he could not what Jesus finally wanted. He could not let go all his possessions. His possessions were more important for him than following the Lord. It turns out that he was not really following God, but merely doing the laws. He stopped at the laws. But the law could not save. The law could not bring him eternal life. It is God! It is Jesus.  Afterwards, Jesus said to the apostles that it is easier for a camel to enter the needle's eye than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. The rich young obeyed all the laws but he realized that it was not enough.  Jesus gave him the opportunity to go beyond the laws by following Him. Sadly, the young man  did not take it.

This is what Jesus meant when He said that He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He is the fulfillment of the law. The law should lead us to the love of God above all things. Having experienced and tasted the beauty and goodness of human love, we should ache for the bliss and glory of divine love. Having realized the joy of being with God, we should aspire not anymore for the graces from God but for God Himself who is the source of all graces. In Jesus, all laws come second. In Jesus, all laws are fulfilled. In Jesus, all laws become love!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Hate Or Not To Hate...?

In the third week of Lent, the scene shifts to Jesus in the temple area. The first Sunday showed Jesus being tempted in the desert. The second Sunday presented Jesus on the mountain being glorified. This third Sunday, Jesus expressed His anger to the money changers and vendors of animals for offering in the temple area. Why was He angry?

He was angry because He saw that the people were more concerned with rituals than true worship. He was also angry because He saw the discrimination against the non-Jews (Gentiles). He was angry because sin was being committed right inside the House of God! He could not tolerate it. The very source and place of holiness is being disrespected by the proliferation of sinfulness. The House of God is being dominated by the presence of evil. The place to communicate with God has become a conduit for sins. They must go. They have no reason to stay. Out!

We can see here the hatred of Jesus against sin. Yes, He is compassionate. Yes, He is understanding. Yes, He is forgiving. But He does not compromise. He does not agree in any degree with sin. What is immoral is immoral. What is against God is against God. What is sin is sin. Either one is against God or for God. Many times we misinterpret or take this for granted. We claim that God can accept us with our sins. That is untrue. God accepts those who had repented of their sins. He could not accept it no matter how much He loves us. By His Holy nature, we must be able to accept that only our converted self can God embrace with compassion. Our sins must be left behind. Our sins must be completely severed from us. Our sins should be hated by us.

How are we so far with regards to hating sins? Do we regard more what others will say or feel than what God will? Do we allow even the smallest of sins thinking that it would not really harm us? The attitudes accompanying these questions are what the devil really wants to achieve. It wants us to compromise. It wants us to loosen our grip on holiness. It desires that we would rely on the love of God to the point that we would allow or even commit some sins. The Gospel today reminds us that we can not allow these attitudes. Sins, no matter how light or reasonable, are sins. Always and forever, they can not exist with God and His children. The least we could do is to be angry against it. That anger must be sustained and when the chance merits it, eliminate its presence. It must be nipped in the bud so as to cripple it and render it powerless. Jesus showed in the Gospel that against sin, anger is a worthy ally. Therefore, hate sin and fight it as best as we could and as thorough as we could.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It Is You, Not God!

(It is worth the second look!)
The Vatican - The Transfiguration - Raphael by WVJazzman.
Jesus had just revealed to His apostles His death. The apostles were taken aback by the revelation. Peter, in fact, was willing to offer his life against anyone who would harm the Lord. But it would not be. God's plan was for His only begotten Son to die for the salvation of all. The apostles, no doubt were devastated by the truth about Jesus' passion and death. They left their families, land, properties and all to follow Jesus. They believed He was the Messiah they were looking and waiting for. And now He was saying that He would die? They felt low. Doubt crept in them. Did they commit a mistake in following Jesus? Will they abandon Him now? What about the things He said and did that attracted them to Him? Who was really this man they are following?

Jesus knew what they were thinking and feeling. So, He invited the leaders of the apostle to accompany Him to the mountain. There the transfiguration happened. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in His divine self. They felt so good that they had suggested to stay there. They had forgotten everything. It was bliss and blessedness. They experienced a foretaste of the Kingdom. They were given the opportunity to know more Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God! Jesus gave them a shot in the arm. The transfiguration experience boosted the confidence of the apostles. It was a confidence they would need in the future. It was the experience they would need to cope with the challenges of Jesus' suffering and death in the hands of the Romans.
Illusions In The Mystic  by Dale Terbush  (please wait for download)
We can hear ourselves asking for the same experience. In this season of Lent, we need a boost in order to pursue our faith, our relationship with God which had been challenged time and again by the temptations we encounter and the sins we commit. Are all our sufferings and sacrifices worth it? The truth is, transfiguration experiences are everywhere. It happens all the time. In the Eucharist, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in all the sacraments, in every gathering in prayer and sharing, in every good act, in creation; the sun, the air, the mountains, the rivers, the human bodies etc. If we will pause and reflect on the things we see and experience, we can recognize God transfiguring Himself before us. Everyday He reveals His divinity to us. Unfortunately, we take them for granted. Unfortunately we see them as common events or things. Unfortunately, we fail to appreciate them as God's presence. Therefore, instead of asking for God's transfiguration, it is we who needs to be transfigured. Let us look again at things God had given us. Let us evaluate again the things we have experienced. Let us see, hear, and feel God's presence in everything. And then we can have the "mountain top" experience of the apostles where we will have a foretaste of the bliss of being with God. If the experience of the divinity of the Lord Jesus had given the apostles the conviction to follow Him all the way, we will also do the same. The experience of Jesus' divinity indeed gives us the best reason to go with Him all the way. The devil will be there too to confuse and distract us, but the devil can not offer what the Lord can offer. And therefore, we should be able to scorn and mock the devil.
Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 3, 1968, talked about his own mountaintop experience in what was supposed to be his last speech before he died. The speech paved the way for giving the black population the necessary confidence to pursue their goal of gaining equality with the white people in America. He said;

"Well, I do not know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it does not matter with me now. Because I have been to the mountain top. And I do not mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's Will. And He has allowed me to go up the mountain. And I have looked over. And I have seen the promised land!"
Jordan-17A-004 by archer10 (Dennis).
God had shown us the Promised Land. All we have to do is enter it by following Him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Turning The Tables At Satan

Repentance by Moh Tj.
Lent is a time for reflection. It is a time to look into ourselves and look at what God had done for us. We reflect on how we have been living our lives. As we go on examining our lives and realizing how we have failed, we make decisions to do something about them. Realizing how we have "missed the mark", we realign our ways in order to walk on the journey towards God, our true destiny. Unfortunately, the process is not that easy. An enemy will make sure we stay out of course. In the first place, that same enemy was responsible for derailing us. Specially this Lenten season, the enemy will be very very very active. When we have committed ourselves to re-examine ourselves, the enemy will will also commit itself to befuddle and confuse us.

We always blame the devil for seducing us. We always fault the devil for our sins. We point to the devil for our miseries caused by sins. We wish to God to keep the devil away. We just want the devil to be out of our lives so that we can go on living our lives as smoothly as possible. Is that possible? Definitely. yes! The devil is dependent on our consent. The devil does not and can not force us. If and when we succumb to the devils temptations, it is because we have decided to want what the devil wants for us. It is because we have decided to agree with its proposal. It is because we have taken for granted our relationship with God which is part of the ultimate reason of the devil in tempting us.
The devil will never stop tempting us to be away from God. The devil will never choose a place where it will strike. The devil will not respect anybody it wants to tempt. The devil's goal is not to immediately make us sinful with one big sin. It will be contented, at first, with letting us commit even the smallest of sins as long as it becomes a habit. (Note that Pondo ng Pinoy also uses the same principle to bring everyone back to goodness!) It would prefer to hook us forever than just for a time. In his book "Screwtape Letters", C.S. Lewis, revealed to his readers the inner workings of the devil. In all the letters, Screwtape, the senior-trainer demon, would always remind Wormwood, his nephew and junior-trainee tempter, that "the safest path to hell is the gradual one."
DAVID, Gerard Altar of Archangel Michael, c1510 by carulmare.
But we are not always enslaved by the temptations of the devil. Temptations are temptations. They are potentials. Potential sins or potential goodness. It can actually come from the devil or the good spirit. The good spirit also "tempts" us to be away from the devil. It inspires us follow God's command. The devil (the bad spirit), on the other hand, lures us away from God. It is cunning and very shrewd. It is ready to use the "good" in order to lead us to sin. It is also willing to make us do good as long as it is less than what we can do. Mediocrity and lukewarmness are the devil's most effective weapon. If we are unaware of its tactics and techniques, we can just find ourselves victimized one day. That is why it is very important to know its ways. That is why it is important to stop and reflect at times in order to check how we have been victorious or failing in our battle against its advances.

Instead of being afraid of temptations, we must be confident against it. Our attitude plays a very crucial role in dealing with it. If we will always concede that we will fall, then the devil had controlled us. But if we see it as an opportunity to prove to God our allegiance to him, then we have a fight, we have a chance. If we see temptations as opportunities to turn the tables against it, then we have won half of the battle. Mockery is the devil's nightmare. It can not endure being jeered or scorned. If we see every temptation as a chance to out do it and slam back his advances it, then we have conquered it, at least for that situation. For as we know, it will always re-appear at a time we least expect it. Vigilance is our friend and its worst enemy.
Candles sheltered from the wind
Therefore, instead of being guilty of violating the God we believe in, let us be busy doing what the devil does not want us to do. If it does not want us to pray, that should be the time to pray. If it does not want us to make sacrifices, that is the time to think of one. If it does not want us to help others, that is the time to be generous. The tempter is now the loser. The hunter is now the hunted. The attacker is now the defender. Let us take the offensive. Just like Jesus who was ministered to by the angels when He was in the desert, we too would always have our angels to guide and protect us. Of course, with our cooperation!

Happy devil hunting!