Archive for August, 2013
There is a question that has always nagged believers like us: Will there be many or few people saved? During certain periods this problem became so acute as to cause some people terrible anxiety, restlessness, depression and despair. More especially when they are in danger of death due to sickness and old age.
This Sunday’s Gospel informs us that Jesus himself was once asked this question: ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’
The question, as we see, focuses on the number — How many will be saved? Will it be many or few? In answering the question, Jesus shifts the focus from “how many” to “how” to be saved.
Jesus’ way of responding to these questions is not strange or discourteous. He is just acting in the way of one who wants to teach his disciples how to move from curiousity to wisdom; from idle question to real problem; from petty to essential issue that we need to grapple with in life
Again, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is not so much interested in revealing to us the number of the saved but how to be saved.
Have you ever asked yourselves the following questions? How can I possess eternal life? How can I enter the kingdom of heaven? How can I be saved? These questions really matter when it comes to the issue of ultimate destiny. These are the kind of questions we need to address now and always. Else we will compromise both our future and present, our life here on earth and hereafter.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who has been honored as Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor by the Catholic Church, has given us a beautiful answer to all the relevant questions? He wrote: “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do” (Two Precepts of Charity ).
Let us discuss these three things a bit deeper:
First, to know what we ought to believe. This refers to the need to have faith in Jesus. “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation”: so teaches the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, 3012). Why? Because “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15).
Second, to know what we ought to desire. What is the deepest longing of our heart? The Catechism (see CCC 1729) teaches: “The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: happiness or blessedness (Mt 25:21,23; cf. CCC 1719), the coming of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 4:17), eternal life (Jn 17:3; cf. Mk 10:30), seeing God face to face or beatific vision (Mt 5:8; cf. 1 Jn 3:2; 1 Cor 13:12), sharing in his divine nature (2 Pt 1:4; St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres. 3, 19), filiation or (John 11:52), and rest in God (cf. Heb 4:7-11). ; see also Cf. CCC 1720). Simply said, “Do you aspire for a happy and intimate communion with God with his angels and saints in the kingdom of heaven for eternity?”
Third, to know what we ought to do. The kingdom of God is intended for all men and women of all generations and nations. But to enter the kingdom of God words are not enough, deeds are necessary such as:
Repentance. “Unless you change and humble yourself like a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” “From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one’s brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else. This filial conversion is entirely directed to the Father” (CCC 268).
- · Detachment from possessions and relations. “The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC 2544).
- Observance of the Ten Commandments. “Whoever fulfills and teaches these commandments shall be great in the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:19). The Parable of the Rich Young Man reminds us of the permanent validity of the Ten Commandments as essential to one’s salvation.
- · Observance of the the Commandment of Love. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30). “And your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27) is the first and most important. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear Jesus giving his disciples a new commandment of love before he left them: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-5).”
“God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). He is “forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish” (2 Pt 3:9; cf. Mt 18:14). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13).
The new millennium has witnessed and continues to witness various and different faces of violence, division and situations of unpeace. Hardly any day passes that we do not hear the sad news of violent aggression and brutality unleashed against innocent people somewhere around the world. To make matters worse, perpetrators of these acts of violence often try to justify these atrocities by claiming that they are fighting a holy war in God’s name. Think of the crusades, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.
Today’s readings are indeed a call to war: not a war against other people but a war against sin and evil; not a war against people we perceive as evil, but a war against the evil one, the devil.
Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth. This is a disturbing word knowing Jesus as the Prince of Peace who has come “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79) and to dispense peace “among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14) Here he makes it clear that he cast fire and brings division rather than peace. In Matthew’s parallel verse (10:34), Jesus brings a sword.
Is Jesus contradicting himself on his teachings about love peace and unity? Is Jesus contradicting himself the fourth precept of the Decalogue or Ten Commandment which is, “Honor your father and mother!” Certainly not. Jesus, in saying those paradoxiCal words, did not intend to destroy family and other human relations, ties and institutions. Rather he was only telling his disciples, in a forceful language, the following:
First, to choose and to follow Jesus is a matter of personal choice. No can one can make decision for us. Not even the Church or the State. Not even our family. And when we choose, either we choose and follow Jesus or reject him. There is no middle way. There is no half-way. There is no other alternative. There is no other option. Please bear in mind that our sanctification and salvation depend on the kind of choice we make. Choose God and you choose life, happiness and peace.
Second, if we opted to choose and follow Jesus then our loyalty, obedience and faithfulness to him must be urgent, exclusive and unparalleled. When it comes to hierarchy of values and priorities in life, God always takes precedence over possessions and relations. To choose and follow Jesus only and always may sometimes bring division and conflict. This is the necessary consequence and cost of following Jesus. This substantially explains the paradoxical words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Third, Jesus’ message of love, peace and unity does not necessarily mean that we compromise with evil and tolerates injustices and wrong-doings. Peace and unity that we rightly desire can be achieved not by compromise, force and violence but by doing the will of God for us and through us. Let this Christian moral principles always guide us: Do good and hate sin! Love sinner and hate evil!
In today’s Mass, Jesus invites all of us to examine who we love first and foremost. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)? A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin because it is possible that family and friends can become our enemies when they prevent and hinder us from following and serving the Lord.
Let our “faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him” (CCC 229).