Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Letter and Spirit of the Law

MY SUNDAY REFELCTION: February 23, 2014
Reflections from Matthew 5:38-48

THE GRACE OF GOD IS THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE LETTER AND SPIRIT OF THE LAW.
By Herbert B. Rosana, Ph.D.

I found our readings for today the easiest to read.  The words and the message are spelled out so clearly that hardly there is a need to explain what our Lord would like us to know and do.  But from a different perspective, this teaching is actually one of the most difficult to follow.  How can we love our neighbour in the same way we love ourselves? And how can we love our enemies?

This week, in a recorded message of Pope Francis to the Evangelical Church – Kenneth Copeland ministries in the U.S., the Pope said that the greatest commandment of God is to love God and to love our neighbours, and if we have these, we can move forward.  The history of Christendom is replete with historical events that demonstrated how the church struggled to keep up with this teaching and yet history was punctuated with many controversies that put to test our love for our neighbours.  The great Christological controversies of the first three hundred years of Christianity, the great schism in the eleventh century and the protestant reformation and counterreformation are just examples of the church’s struggle.  But each time we see how the grace of God works.  God is leading His people towards reconciliation.  When we fail His chastisement comes but with the grace to help us rise up.  Today this challenge remains the same, but the grace of God is unlimited if only we would draw from it the help we need.

In the Old Testament we saw how the Children of Israel, the people of God were commanded to love their brothers. In Leviticus 19:17-18 God emphasized and affix His Name on that great commandment.  He said: “I am the Lord”. Reflecting again on the first reading and on the Gospel, I notice a parallelism.  The Old Testament emphasized love for one’s neighbour, and who is the neighbour?  The neighbour here is their fellow Israelites, and thus this excludes the Gentiles.  But in the New Testament, Christ reaffirmed this commandment but expanded it to include everyone and to even command love for one’s enemies, and the demonstration of love and compassion even for those bitterly oppose to us.

Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.  He re-affirmed the unity and continuity of the Old and the New Testament.  Just as the Law came though Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Christ came to fulfil the spirit of the Law, while Moses mediated the letter of the Law.  This very same grace brought by Christ, is the panacea for the sin that has afflicted humankind.  It does not only command obedience, but it gives the means to fulfil.  While John the Baptist baptize with water, Christ baptize with spirit and with fire.  Did we not remember how terrified were the disciples before the Pentecost?  But after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the disciples became bolder in their proclamation of the gospel.  The early church as a caring and loving church, witnessing to the message of Christ.  The fervency, love and courage shown by Stephen the proto-martyr demonstrated the kind of grace that comes from the spirit of the Law. 

In this age of grace, the light has shown among the gentiles.  Jesus is offering his  saving grace to all nations.  St. Paul said, no one can be saved by their own efforts.  Thus the legalistic observance of the Law of Moses is futile unless God gives us the Holy Spirit and gives us the extraordinary and unmerited help to overcome our weaknesses and our wounded nature.  As we walk in this narrow way, may we discover the joy and happiness of Christian perfection.  May we learn to truly love and to truly be compassionate so that we may become the children of the Father.  And this can come to reality when we listen to the Word of God.  Faith comes by listening to the Word of God.  Amen.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Perfection: The Hallmark of Christianity

MY SUNDAY REFLECTIONS: From Matthew 5:17-37

Perfection: The Hallmark of Christianity
By Herbert B. Rosana, Ph.D.

“For unless your perfection exceeds that of the Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Judaism of Jesus’ time in Palestine  emphasizes strict adherence to the Mosaic Law.  Through the course of time, the Jews compiled several books of commentaries called the Talmud which form part of the Mosaic Law, or an addition to the Torah (the commandments found in the first five books of the Bible).  There were customs attached to the practice of the Mosaic Law.  At that time, to be a true believer is to perfectly obey the Law.  Because of this there was a marked difference between the common man and the Pharisees as well as the other sects of Judaism.  While the common people were considered ignorant and sinners, the Pharisees pride themselves of being the teachers of the law and obedient to the Law.

Christ, in the course of His ministry has rebuked the hypocrisy of these teachers of the Law.  Being a teacher in His own right, Christ has introduced a new way of interpreting the Law.  In so much so that He said that unless we surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees we shall not enter the Kingdom of God.  This is indeed a radical teaching.  Something that will catch the ire of contemporary teachers of the Law.  An idea that will stir controversy. 

Controversial at it may be.  Jesus in His teaching was introducing the message of grace.  One who is familiar with the books of the New Testament will see how St. Paul the apostle expounded on this theology of grace.  Since it was incapable for humankind to achieve holiness on their own free will, it is necessary that God in His omnipotence should intervene in order to strengthen the human person to obey the will of God.  Human beings on their own are bound to fail because of mortal sin.  St. Augustine introduce the doctrine of Original Sin.  Original Sin means the sinful tendencies, which made us enemies of God that we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  The effect of Adam’s disobedience darkened the soul and nature of human beings.  It clouded the image of God in us, but not completely.  Blurry as it may be the image of God is still in us.  That is why St. Paul was moved to say that even among the Gentiles who have never known God; His Eternal Law is inscribed in their consciences.  That there is a door of reconciliation, but this door or this way is a way defined by God and not by humans.  The various customs created by the Pharisees were too complicated to follow.  One would have spent a life time memorizing and mastering these laws, but it is of no help to human beings because no matter how they memorize these laws they are bound to disobey, because the force of sin is still much around the corner.

The only way by which humans can be delivered from sin is for them to accept Christ and believe in Him.  “I will send you the Comforter” says Christ.  To strengthen us and to save us.  Human beings need the “Grace of God” in order to be saved from these sinful tendencies.  We do not merit these graces, we do not work for it because it is something given by God freely.  This teachings should remind us of the grace we receive in Baptism, how Go forgave us of our sinfulness and washed us clean by the saving waters of Baptism.  It made us friends with God.  But sometimes we also commit mistakes and humans as we are, we are bound to commit mistakes and because of this the Church has provided us the Sacrament of Penance.  One thing I appreciate with our church is that it affords us the means of sanctification.  We say that the Catholic Church is Holy; it is holy because it has Christ for its founder, and it has the means by which human beings /her members could be made holy.  For if God will not make us holy, we will never be holy on our own.  This is the meaning of Grace.  And Grace comes through hearing and hearing the Word of God.  The overflowing of grace is not a onetime experience but it is a lifetime process.  A continuous action in metanoia. A transformation of the self. 

To be truly pleasing to God is not through servile obedience to the Law, but the continuous surrender of one’s will to God by listening to the Word of God and obedience.  Once filled with this faith and with this grace, our obedience to God will be perfect.  As Christ said, that the Law is subsumed into two commandments: (1) Love God above all things and (2) Love your neighbour as you love yourself.  It is only through this grace of God in Jesus that we win our sonship in the Kingdom of God, and in the course of conversion we win the friendship of God.  When we do what is pleasing to God that is the sign of friendship.  When grace is overflowing, truth and justice will follow.  For the Law came through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May God transform us to what He wants us to be, and may He grant us the grace to be perfect for this is the mark of our being Christians.

Amen.



Friday, February 7, 2014

TO BE TRAILBLAZERS



MY SUNDAY REFLECTION: February 9, 2014, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

“TO BE A TRAIL BLAZER”
By Herbert B. Rosana, Ph.D.

Life is too short, but given the shortness of life, we are given a task to accomplish.  The sad part of living is that many people think that this life is the only life and thus they set the parameters of their goals based on the shortness of this life and thus they end up disappointed and spend old age and even their lifetime in despair. 

I have been following the daily homily of Pope Francis, thanks to Vatican News service for carrying his sermons on its pages.  Of recent, the Holy Father spoke of about the three graces we need to pray for.  These are, (1) To pray that we die at home-[meaning as a member of the church in the state of grace], (2) to die with hope, and (3) to leave a legacy, a human legacy.  This is one of the best homily I have heard from the Holy Father because it gave me lasting impressions.  I would think that others who have heard or read about the homily will also be impressed by the profoundness and the timeliness of the message.

Reflecting on the gospel reading for today, I found the holy Father’s thought very similar to the message of the gospel.  To be the salt of the earth, and to be the light.  Salt and light.  We put salt on our food to make it more tastier, but Christ said, what would the salt be if it has lost its savour?  What would the light be if we put it under the bed? As Christians our calling is to bear fruit.  And who said that salvation is a onetime event?  The Scriptures tell us that we need to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).  In order to be saved we must believe in Christ and allow ourselves to be transformed.  The process of transformation takes time.  In fact this is a lifetime event.  So that by being transformed we need to be renewed each time and to be perfected until the end.  This is what it means to have hope, because like the labourer we expect to receive our wages at the end of the day.  To those who obey the Lord the reward is immortality, to those who do not, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  

Perhaps the cares of this world, the lust of life and the vanity of sin, must have dampen our souls.  It may have cause us to lose our savour. If so, let us remind ourselves of our baptism, that day when we were wearing white clothing, ready for the saving waters to be poured on us, how the Lord made us clean, washed us by His Holy Blood, and make us whiter than snow.  Let us not be discouraged because of sin.  In every failure there is hope.  This is the reason why we have the sacrament of penance.  We have the Eucharist to nourish us.  We have the Word of God to guide and teach us.  We have the encouragement of the community of the faithful.  Let us not lose that savour.  Let us be the salt of the earth.  We must be an influence to the world.  We must sanctify the surrounding we find ourselves.  Even in the most secular activity we can infuse it with our faith.  Like the light in the candle we can penetrate the darkest corner of this world.  Let us be salt and light to our families, to our communities, and to our country, that by seeing our good works, the people around us will see the light of Christ and be encouraged to follow the path to salvation.  Let us become trailblazers that as we live and leave this short life we can trail a blaze that can be seen by everyone.  So that those who will see and remember us can say, “here is a man who has followed Christ and has loved Him until the end.  Let us follow him”.   With this hope of Christ Jesus, we shall find ourselves in the Kingdom of God, in the many mansions prepared for us.  As the prophet Daniel said: “But they that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity.” Daniel 12:3 (Douay-Rheims Version).  Amen.  Blessed Sunday to everyone.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

THE ELDERLY: THE FORGOTTEN SECTOR EVEN AMONG CHURCH COMMUNITIES

ALONG WITH CHILDREN AND THE SPECIALLY-ABLED PERSONS, the elderly is one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society.  They suffer from neglect, discrimination and biases.  We see how some children neglect to care for their elderly parents, subject them not only to neglect but physical and psychological abuse.  Sometimes, society's attitude towards the elderly reflects discrimination.  For example we often hear words like, "si tanda", "itong matandang ito!", as if getting old or aging is a human defect.  There are simple words and expressions but they speak a lot how we society treat our elderly.  It seems that many has forgotten the fact that someday they too will become old.  As humans, and as individuals let us learn to reflect.  Perhaps reflection would make us realize some truths and make us more compassionate.

Read more from CBCP News

Saturday, February 1, 2014

SACERDUS MAGNUS



MY SUNDAY REFLECTION ON THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION:
February 2, 2014
“Our High Priest”
By Herbert B. Rosana, Ph.D.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign to be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce- so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Today is the feast of “Candelaria” or candle mass.  We specially commemorate the presentation of the Lord in the temple.  Joseph and Mary in obedience to the Law of Moses presented Jesus in the temple because Jesus was the first born.  Being poor, instead of the lamb offerings, the couple offered turtle doves for their sacrifice.   This was in obedience to the Law of Moses of which could be read from Leviticus 12:6-8; 5:7-11.  Jesus was the first born and therefore as the law commands he should be dedicated as set aside.  This commemorates the pass over, when the angel of death claimed the first born of Egypt and the first born of the pharaoh but the first born of the children of Israel were saved by the sprinkling of the blood of the lamb and this symbolizes the final deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. 

I imagine Joseph and Mary after forty days bringing their child to the Herodian temple entering through Nicanor’s gate.  Being poor in circumstance, the couple could not afford the lamb but instead brought in the pigeon as substitute for a sin offering as required by the Law.  There are several thoughts that run through my mind as I reflect on this reading. 

First, we saw that Mary and Joseph were examples of devotion.  Despite of their poverty, they joyfully and willingly complied with the requirements of the Law.  Second, It brings me to reflect upon the role of the Mosaic rituals in relation to the New Covenant revealed by Christ.  The Mosaic rituals were in essence ineffectual in saving men from the grip of sinfulness because they were symbols pointing to the one holy sacrifice made by Jesus on Calvary. That is why the Mosaic rituals have to be done repeatedly year after year. But St. Paul said, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” Hebrews 10:3 (NAS).  What then is the purpose for the elaborate and detailed rituals of the Mosaic and Levitical rituals?  These rituals were symbols pointing us to the reality of the saving work of God.  This is the reason why Aaron and His sons were instructed to carefully observe the specifications given as for the worship of the One True God, because these rituals were windows and shadows of the heavenly worship.  These rituals, laws and precepts were meant to be our tutor, to prepare the people of God for the final redeeming act to be accomplished by God through His Son Jesus as pointed out in the promise in Genesis 3:15. 

          Thirdly, as pointed out by the second reading, the presentation in the temple revealed to us the priestly role of Christ.  He came as a poor man.  Blessed as are the poor for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God.  The blessedness of the poor consists in the fact that Christ embraced poverty.  He came to the world as poor, born in a stable, lived as an ordinary man and died the most abject form of death.  He passed through all the things we have experienced including temptation but He never committed a sin and he triumph over all these temptations.  So that when He ascended on High, He can be our advocate, a real Priest, not in along the line of Aaron but according to the order of Melchizedek.  Like Melchizedek without an origin and without an end. Christ came in poverty, he embraced poverty because He came to give hope, to announce the coming of the Kingdom and to usher in the age of grace that will eventually lead to the Parousia.  In order to accomplish this he has to be with His people who are poor and who are living in darkness.  So that by being with them, He can give them hope, give them salvation, and heal them.  That is why today we say that the Church is a church of the poor because the church has to carry out Christ’s mission of saving the poor.  The Church has to carry out this mission of giving hope and proclaiming the Parousia.  When Christ offered Himself on the cross and when He ascended into heaven, He became our advocate a real Priest, our high Priest.  A high Priest who is not detached from His people but is one with them.  This thought is captured by Hebrews 2:14, “Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all through their life.”

And lastly may this feast of the presentation not only encourage us to love the poor and to bring the saving hope of Christ to the poor but lead us more to the appreciation of the Eucharist.  For when the breaking of the bread is done, Christ is there, truly present, body, soul and divinity.  It takes us to the foot of Calvary, symbolized by the altar on which the Eucharist is offered.  Christ our High Priest offers Himself as propitiation for our sins, a sacrifice pleasing to God our Father.  May this Eucharist be always be the source of all our love, for it is the one sacrifice that will sanctify us, give us hope and make us inheritors of God’s Kingdom, in this life and in the life to come.  May the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose heart was pierced with a lance as prophesied by Simeon, accompany us in this journey.  Let us not fear...we have a High Priest on High who is able to strengthen us, to comfort us and to finally enable us to inherit God’s Kingdom.  This same High Priest- Christ Jesus, has strengthened the hearts of the ancient martyrs who braved the Lions and gladiators and willingly joined their blood and hearts to the Savior.

Happy feast day.  Amen.