A very Valentine Sunday Gospel

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Sixth Week of the Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 12 February 2023
Sirach 15:15-20 ><]]]]'> 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 ><]]]]'> Matthew 5:17-37
Photo by author, Tagaytay City, 08 February 2023.

We are two days away from Valentine’s Day and a week from Ash Wednesday for the start of the Lenten Season. And our Gospel this Sunday speaks so much of how our hearts may be whole and pure like that of Jesus, filled with love for others as Christ’s disciples.

We are still with Jesus giving us his Sermon on the Mount. Last week we have heard him showing us the practical side of the beatitudes, of blessedness which is being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Today, Jesus elaborates to us the meaning of putting into practice our blessedness, of being the salt of the earth and light of the world by going right into our hearts in fulfilling the Laws in him as he clarified, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17).

Living our lives as disciples of Jesus means that we follow a standard or norm totally different from the world’s standard that has become very personalistic and self-centered. The late Pope emeritus Benedict XVII called it as “dictatorship of relativism” – no more absolutes, no more God nor morality to follow because everything is relative that had given rise to everyone invoking each one’s rights totally disregarding the rights of others especially the weakest and most vulnerable. Worst, as most people insist on their individual rights these days, they also forget the other aspect of every right which is responsibility. What happens now is the covering up of temptations of lust so as not to deal with it like the promotion of abortion and artificial contraceptives or of divorce as a solution to marital infidelities.

The problem is not with the laws but with the heart of every person.

Photo by author, Don Bosco Chapel on the Hill, Batangas, 08 February 2023.

Jesus is challenging us today to look into our hearts, placing the responsibility on every individual and not on the object of temptations or anger or lust. He is inviting us to lead our lives with integrity where we follow not only the letter of the law but more important, its spirit. This integrity calls us to a whole-hearted living whereby more than the beautiful words we speak, our lives, our very actions reveal we are the children of the Father in Christ Jesus, animated by the Holy Spirit.

See how Matthew composed and arranged the Lord’s teachings today; there is always the reminder from the Laws of the Old Testament followed by the Lord’s clarification of its deeper meaning and application.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.” But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.” anything more is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37

See how Jesus is directing us into his own heart, into the very heart of his Gospel found in the beatitudes we heard the other Sunday so that our hearts would also imitate. To be truly blessed, to be a salt of the earth and a light of the world is to have a clean, pure heart like Jesus, a heart filled with love and mercy. It is very difficult to do on our own but in the grace of Jesus Christ, it is doable.

At the very heart of Christ’s teachings today is the fact that not everything in life can be written and even fiscalized or enacted as a law. Human life is dynamic, always changing, supposedly for the best. Unfortunately, what we are seeing these days in history is decadence: when we are supposed to know more and know better, the more we are becoming less human, less personal because in our “reasoning”, what prevails upon us is our ego, our pride, our self-interests. These are what Jesus is attacking in his teachings today as he invites us to examine and cleanse our hearts, and to truly “feel” the depths and meaning of the Laws long given by God.

How sad that our usual argument against old laws is how they have become obsolete, not attuned with the times like the proponents of divorce. The problem is not with the natural order of things but us. And the tragedy is that we have not only polluted our hearts but also our minds, turning them away from God and from others.

Photo from reddit.com.

Very often, especially these days, many people insist on their freedom, on their power to choose forgetting that freedom is never absolute, that freedom demands also responsibilities. Though we are free to express our thoughts and feelings, it is not allowed to use the same freedom in spreading lies or maligning others.

The key to such “whole-hearted” living is found in our first reading from the Book of Sirach which emphasizes the meeting of the heart and the mind in God to choose, to decide and to do what is right, what is good.

If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.

Sirach 15:15-17, 20

We have the natural laws etched by God in our hearts to always do good, to do no harm on others. We also have his words and teachings finally revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ that must guide us in making the right exercise of freedom, of choosing life not death. Here we have true integrity, the meeting of the mind and the heart at what is true, what is good!

Freedom is the ability to choose what is good. Moreover, to be free is also to decide knowingly. Freedom is diminished and impaired when judgement is disturbed. As the Latin saying goes, Mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a sound body. That is why our responsorial psalm says it so well that “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord”.

One fine example of this blessed man who follows the Lord is our national athlete and the world’s number three pole vaulter, EJ Obiena.

A UST student who has represented us in various competitions including the 2020 Olympics in Japan, Obiena opened 2023 by winning two gold medals in four tournaments. Unfortunately due to usual red tapes and inefficiencies of those in government, Obiena had to skip the Asian Indoor Championship in Kazakhstan this weekend because of lack of logistical support and fundings. He never ran out of problems despite the many honors he had brought to our country in sports that in the process had shown us also his giftedness as an athlete and as a person with his good moral character.

What I like with him most is his passion for what is ethical, for what is right. He is very consistent with that. He is a man with an undivided heart, clearly inclined to what is true, good and just.

When people wrote and offered him help to join the competition in Kazakhstan, Obiena politely declined the offers because of ethical reasons, of “double-dipping” wherein he explained how the people have already given their share for him with their tax payments, that for them to give donations was too much already, even unjust.

Wow! Praise God for a man like Mr. Obiena! Truly a man with a heart full of passion in God, in what is right, what is true!

What EJ Obiena has consistently shown us – and taught us unconsciously – is the wisdom of God in Christ crucified, the favorite topic of St. Paul in his letters like the one we have heard earlier. See how Obiena was ready to suffer and sacrifice for what is true and good that so often, he is vindicated and has won our hearts and admiration.

This Sunday, let us listen more to God’s voice there in our heart, often the softest and most feeble covered by the more noisy sounds of the world. Let us look into our hearts and see if we have more of our selves, or of others? Of persons or things? Of laws or spirit of the laws? Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, Tagaytay City, 07 February 2023.
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