December 21, 2017: Insights on the SIXTH DAY OF SIMBANG GABI
There’s more to Christmas than merry-making, that is, drinking, eating and having fun. There is more to Christmas than giving and receiving of gifts. Christmas is recognizing the coming, the visit, and our encounter with Jesus in every event, place, and people that come our way! Christmas is welcoming Jesus and what He stands for into our heart, into our lives. Christmas is giving a special place, a HOME for JESUS in our HEART and to the One who carries Jesus into our lives! This is what Elizabeth and John the Baptist who was still in her womb did when Mary, the “bearer of God” visits her cousin Elizabeth! “Carry the “HEART OF GOD” and the “GOD OF YOUR HEART” everywhere!”
God is waiting eternally to be born in each one of us – Meister Eckhart
“God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the fullness of truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4) – Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). To fulfill this plan of salvation, God begins by giving his people a sign: “The Virgin is with child and bears a son and calls his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). This was fulfilled through the virginal conception and birth of Jesus as announced by angel Gabriel in today’s gospel that Mary will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (see Lk 1:26-38). This messianic prophecy was fulfilled when Mary gave her YES TO GOD to become the mother of Jesus, who is the Immanuel which means “the God-with-us,” “God made man (John 1:14),” Lord and God (John 20:28)“in him the fullness of divinity dwells (Col 1:19),” “the Way, the Truth and the life(John 14:6),” our model and teacher of holiness.
“Jesus Christ is the central figure of the world’s history. The world cannot forget Him while it remembers history, for history is His story. To leave Him out would be like astronomy without stars, or like botany with the flowers forgotten. Horace Bushnell said, “It would be easier to untwist all the beams of light in the sky and to separate and erase one of the primary colors, than to get the character of Jesus out of the world.” The history of the race since it’s inception has been the history of the preparation for His coming. The Old Testament foretells His coming in type, symbol, and direct prophesy. The history of His people Israel is a story of expectation, of yearning, of preparation. The fact of Jesus Christ is not only firmly imbedded in human history and written upon the open page of Scripture, but is also experientially embodied in the lives of millions of believers and interwoven in the fabric of all civilization worthy of the name. …. You may have Confucianism without Confucius; Buddhism without Buddha; Islam without Muhammad; Mormonism without Joseph Smith; and Christian Science without Mary Baker Eddy. But you cannot have Christianity without Christ, for strictly speaking, Christianity is Christ, and Christ is Christianity. It is not primarily a religion, but a life; and the life is His life made living in men. “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
Indeed, angel Gabriel was right when he, through his greeting, beautifully describes Mary “full of grace”, “the Lord is with you,” who with her “FIAT” or YES TO GOD became the “Theotokos” meaning the “Bearer of God,” the “Mother of God.”
“The way to salvation is the divine will: a royal way, entirely straight and sure, which leads to God. The one who follows it cannot be led astray. Hence, seek the will of God, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Sanctity properly so-called consists in simple conformity to the Divine will expressed in the exact and constant fulfillment of the duties of one’s proper state. Seek, therefore, the will of God: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else” (Pope Benedict XV).
“Complete” obedience does not mean that we have never sinned by disobeying but that we have committed ourselves to obeying the Lord “in every aspect of (our) conduct” (see 1 Pt 1:15). We have decided on “complete coverage” in our obedience. We obey the Lord speaking through the Church, in the Bible, through the Pope, bishops, authorities, husbands, parents, and leaders. To do this, we have learned what the Bible says and what the Church and Pope teach. We obey the Lord in our relationships, sexuality, money, possessions, time, work, speaking, eating, sleeping, recreation, etc. There are no areas of our lives where we haven’t tried to know God’s will or where we don’t even think of obeying God. We are living lives of complete obedience (see 1 Pt 1:2). We’re not trapped into the selfish emptiness of doing our own thing. We live a life of love, for obedience is an essential way of expressing our love (see Jn 15:10; 1 Jn 5:3).
Like Mary’s FIAT, let us give our YES TO GOD who calls us to sanctification and salvation, who calls us to the life and mission of the church!
Herod the tetrarch is also known as Herod Antipas. The same Herod as appears later in the account of the Passion (cf. Lk 23:7ff). A son of Herod the Great. Antipas governed Galilee and Perea in the name of the Roman emperor; according to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian (“Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII, 5, 4). He was originally married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. However, while on an excursion to Rome, he stayed with his half-brother Philip and Herodias, his wife. Impetuously, he fell in love with his brother’s wife. Rather than suppress his inappropriate infatuation, he approached Herodias and convinced her to leave Philip. She agreed as long as he divorced his Arabian wife, which he did (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chap. V, v. 1-2).
John’s accusation was that Herod Antipas was a wife-stealer. And worse than that, he had stolen the wife of his own brother! His act was immoral and unlawful, for ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing’ (Lev. 20:21).
Herod, who divorced the daughter of Aretas without sufficient cause consummated an illegal and immoral marriage with Herodias, ignored the direct counsel of John the Baptist; held lascivious parties; made an oath to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to half of your kingdom, because he liked the way she danced…Well that one puts him in a bind. Though he was left with an option of breaking an ill-advised oath or executing a prophet of God and he could have broken the oath Herod, pursuant to this grant (Mt 14:10); He sent and beheaded John in the prison.
Towards the end of the first century Flavius Josephus wrote of these same events. He gives additional information–specifying that it was in the fortress of Makeronte that John was imprisoned (this fortress was on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea, and was the scene of the banquet in question) and that Herodias’ daughter was called Salome.
There are three great lessons to learn from the life of Herod:
First, no man can rid himself of a sin by ridding himself off the man who confronts him with it. There is such a thing as conscience, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (cf. Gaudium et Spet, 16), and even if a man’s accuser is eliminated his guilty conscience is still not silenced.
Herod’s mind has been tortured by guilt from murdering a prophet of God. Herod’s actions were obviously haunting him. He knew it was wrong to kill John. He had been plagued with his own conscience and knew that he would be punished for his actions, ‘For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ (Mark 6:20).
“’Herod Antipas, to whom, on the death of Herod the Great, had fallen the tetrarchy of Galilee, was about as weak and miserable a prince as ever disgraced the throne of an afflicted country. Cruel, crafty, voluptuous, like his father, he was also, unlike him, weak in war and vacillating in peace. In him, as in so many characters which stand conspicuous on the stage of history, infidelity and superstition went hand in hand. But the morbid terrors of a guilty conscience did not save him from the criminal extravagances of a violent will.’” (Farrar, p. 295.)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 331.)
Vatican II reminds us: “For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spet, 16).
“Moral conscience (cf. Rom 2:14-16), present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges a particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil (cf. Rom 1:32) …When a man listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (cf. CCC 1777).
“Return to your conscience, question it…Turn inward, brethren and in everything you do, see God as your witness “ (St. Augustine, In ep Jo. 8, 9: PL 35 2041.
Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
In order that conscience can make right judgment, “some rules apply in every case: (1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it; (2) the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do, do so to them” (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31; Tob 4:15); (3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8:12).Therefore “it is right not to…do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom 14:21) (CCC 1789).
You are guilty of sin when you do anything against your right and informed conscience. Your conscience will always be in state of guilt and fear and will keep on pestering you for the evil deeds done. What a troubled and a restless mind. Strive for a clear conscience. “There’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience,” says the French proverb.
Second, pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name although a person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it (see cf. 2152).
Bruce R. McConkie comments:
“Herod is stunned [at the request for John’s head]; he is plunged into sudden grief; his fawning friends are appalled…Antipas…feared to lose face with his nobles should he break his intemperate oath.
“’If a single touch of manliness had been left in him he would have repudiated the request as one which did not fall either under the letter or spirit of his oath, since the life of one cannot be made the gift to another; or he would have boldly declared that if such was her choice, his oath was more honoured by being broken than by being kept. But a despicable pride and fear of man prevailed over his better impulses. More afraid of the criticisms of his guests than of the future torment of such conscience as was left him, he immediately sent an executioner to the prison, and so at the bidding of a dissolute coward, and to please the loathly fancies of a shameless girl, the axe fell, and the head of the noblest of the prophets was shorn away.’ (Farrar)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 334-5.)
St Augustine further comments: “Amid the excesses and sensuality of the guests, oaths are rashly made, which then are unjustly kept” (“Sermon 10”).
The rash and foolish promise confirmed with an oath, (see Mt 14:7) which Herod made to this wanton girl, to give her whatsoever she would ask and this promise was a very extravagant obligation that neither a prudent man that is afraid of being snared in the words of his mouth (Prove 6:2) nor a good man that fears an oath, Eccl 9:2 would dare. Oaths or promises are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly can be an occasion of many temptations and sins. Therefore, swear not so at all, lest thou have occasion to say, It was an erro, (Eccl. 5:6). That’s just the reason the Savior said, Swear not at all; neither by heaven…Nor by the earth (Matt 5:34
It is a sin against the second commandment of God’s Law to make an oath to do something unjust; any such oath has no binding force. In fact, if one keeps it–as Herod did–one commits an additional sin. The Catechism also teaches that one offends against this precept if one swears something untrue, or swears needlessly (cf. “St Pius V
Catechism”, III, 3, 24). Cf. note on Mt 5:33-37.
Third, sin engenders other sins and vices, destruction and death. This results in perverse inclination which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root (see cf. CCC 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869).
Herod’s action started first with a seduction of Herodias then followed by a divorce of his own wife Areta. Next, John was imprisoned and beheaded. Bitterly resented the insult perpetrated against his daughter, King Areta of Arabia Petrea, Aretas’ father who was the ruler of Nabateans made war against Herod that heavily defeated him.
Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as punishment for what he had done to John. What happened then and that what followed after simply proved that sin brings its own punishment. It was an omen when Herod first seduced Herodias. From that act of infidelity came the murder of John, and in the end disaster, in which he lost everything except Herodias who stayed with him to the end.
Lord, anticipate our needs and prevent us from falling. Help us to choose what is good and to reject what is contrary to your will. And help us to strive for holiness that we may please you in all things (Hebrews 12:14).”
There is a bible scholar who said, “The message of the Scripture from the first page to the very last is love”. Indeed love is the main message of Christianity, others are just commentaries. Apart from it no sacrifice, no offering, no worship, no conduct are holy, pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. Hence, the perfection of the Christian life consists principally and essentially in charity. It is the foundation, center and the summit of Christian life.
“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. “The commandment of love encompass all of the commandments of the Decalogue and fulfill them. All are contained in them, all follows from them, all strive toward them” (OR, June 1991). “Love is the greatest and the first of all the commandments and in it all the others are included and made one” (JP II Address to Youth). It is a resume and condensation of the fullness of the Law (Rm. 13:8, 10) that suffices. So it is that charity expresses all, contains all, crowns all.
Alan Watts writes, “One may master all the rules of conduct but fail to be a Christian for lack of love. Mere obedience to a law will never of itself produce love, because love is the very life of God and there is no system or set of rules whereby one can become its possessor” (Behold the Spirit). Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification” (LG 42).
I therefore, exhort you “love one another in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it” (see 1 Jn 3:18). because when man is loved, St. Thomas says, God is loved, for man is the image of God (cf. “Commentary on St. Matthew”, 22:4) and an object of His love (cf. St. Vincent de Paul). Let us, therefore, renew our commitment to love God and one another not only with our words, not only with our promises, not only with our good intention but in truth and in deeds.
Do you want to go to hell? If you want to go to hell, just refuse to love, just neglect to love, just take love for granted and you will go to hell the easiest, the fastest and the surest way. Please don’t go the hell.
According to Jewish tradition, the resurrection of the just, and the subsequent setting up of the kingdom of God, was to be ushered in by a great festival in which all of the chosen people would participate. Hence their saying: ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’
What does it mean to “eat bread in the kingdom of heaven”? In the ancient world the most notable sign of favor and intimate friendship was the invitation to “share bread” at the dinner table or the table fellowship. Who you ate with showed who you valued and trusted as your friends. One of the most beautiful images of heaven in the scriptures is the royal wedding celebration and banquet given by the King for his son and close friends.
The gospel parable that we just heard is commonly known as the Parable of the Great Feast. Let us be reminded that in the Gospel Jesus usually uses parables to describe and explain the characteristics and mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven. Through this Parable the Lord remind us of God the Father’s invitation to the greatest banquet in heaven. Included and implied in this invitation are the following:
First, God wants all men and women to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and come to the fullness of knowledge of Jesus who is the Way, Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).
Second, God wants His people to be happy with him in the kingdom of heaven. This is also reiterated to us by the Church when she teaches, “To be in blessed and intimate communion with God is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human, a state of supreme and definitive happiness.”
Third, God wants His people to value and prioritize heaven over corporal, material and earthly things which may pass away.
It is frightening to note, however, that those who were not able to attend the great feast were not those who refused to come; they merely had other important things to do. They were simply more concerned and pre-occupied with corporal, material and temporal problems—for example, a piece of ground, a yoke of oxen, or a wife. As we look at the part possessions and relations play in this parable, we can see that there is great risk in them—risk that concern for temporal things may cloud our view of what is eternally important.
Do we see heaven as our ultimate goal? Are we really serious with our ultimate destiny? If yes, Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is a matter of urgency and top priority. Mere words are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Action is needed. It demands our positive and concrete response here and now. It demands that we give everything to it. Else we would be shut out forever from the Kingdom of heaven.
How many times does God call us to repentance, conversion, and new life only to be ignored because there are more pressing things to attend to? How many times God continues to teach, sanctify and lead us through the Bible or through Church, her ministers and sacraments only to be taken for granted because there are more important things to do?
In today’s Mass, let us once gain focus our attention to heaven which is our ultimate destiny and goal. As we journey towards our ultimate home, let us hate evil, hold on to what is good, true and pleasing to the Lord, then help building up and spreading the kingdom of God here on earth until it is perfected in heaven. As the Lord said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33).