HEART-SIGHT, MORE THAN JUST IN-SIGHT!

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
August 12, 2007

Readings: Wis 18:6-9 / Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 / Lk 12:32-48

HEART-SIGHT, MORE THAN JUST IN-SIGHT!

Perspective was what we reflected on last week. It meant having clear eyes to see the difference between what lasts and what doesn’t last … like the dew that with the early morning sun passes away. Qoheleth reminded us last week: transitoriness of transitoriness!” … “Vanity of vanities!” … Jesus, too, would have us set our sights beyond earthly greed, beyond working for mere accumulation of material things. “Take care that your heart is not overtaken by greed.”

Given the right perspective, we know that man ought to work for his keeps, not for his greed. Merely working for one’s keep means one gets to a point when he has to say “enough.” People who work on account of greed never will have enough, for the pull of the more, the better, and the greater simply does not reach a point of satiety.

This Sunday, another perspectival concept juts out of all three readings. And the perspective does not have to do merely with things that last, but more so with the very “last things” – ta eschata – the ultimate realities of human creaturely existence. Wisdom refers to it in symbolic language as the time for the “the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes” (1st Reading). The Letter to the Hebrews refers to it as “a better homeland, a heavenly one,” and speaks of God who “has prepared a city for them” (2nd Reading).

Something so important and valuable is not to be taken lightly, but prepared for seriously. Thus the reminder from the Lord: “Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day the Lord will come,” (Alleluia verse) repeated one other time in the Gospel passage from Luke: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

But I would like to take a little step forward this Sunday. These two Sundays, we have been talking about the importance of having good vision … that is, seeing rightly. Indeed, as the GUI mantra puts it: “what you see is what you get.” Values seen for what they really are worth, are values we work for, strive after, and aim at with the totality of who and what we are as persons. But what we value, we also love. Knowing always leads to loving. A known good is a good that attracts, that pushes us to act towards attaining it. Knowing-good cannot be far from wanting-good. What the mind sees as good, the heart wants as value. Insight cannot be far from heart-sight.

Antoine de St. Exupery, in his famous work “Le Petit Prince” puts it so well: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Mind-sight (or what we often call insight) is not all there is. We also need heart-sight. We also need to see clearly with the heart, as we need to see with the mind. We need as much evaluative knowledge, as conceptual knowledge.

The first lines of today’s gospel passage clearly point to the need for this heart-sight, as much as the need for insight: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Peter Kreeft, writing about discernment in daily life, speaks about seven foundational guiding principles. The first, it turns out, is what he calls “hermeneutics of the heart.” The very first rule to follow is literally counter-cultural, so against the grain, as it were, as to seemingly be against common sense. People in our times would rather go for statistics, for scientific, verifiable, measurable, and quantifiable data. People would go generally for what the polls point to – the most popular decision and what would make the majority of people happy. But Kreeft wisely counsels what mass media does not counsel: follow your heart. Follow where your heart leads you to.

And this does not mean being led by subjective and fleeting emotions. Far from it! It means, first and foremost, having heart-sight, being in love with God, being in touch with God in and through our capacity for a decision that springs from the biblical center of our personhood – the heart.

St. Augustine knew it by experience. And he was right all along … AMA ET FAC QUOD VIS! …. Love and do what you will. When we love, we see more, not less. We see what is right and proper, what is honorable, what is worthy of honor and praise. With proper heart-sight, we will be led to do only that which is right and proper … what is godly, what is honorable and worthy of praise. For it is only with the heart that one sees rightly.

Today, the Lord invites us to see life and all it offers from the right perspective. And that right perspective is born from one’s ability to allow room for the heart to do its proper role. Allow me to enumerate some of the characteristics of a person with the required heart-sight and in-sight …

First, the gospel passage tells us not to be afraid. One who sees rightly with the heart has a heart full of courage: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

Second, the Lord reminds us that a heart full of love is also a heart full of excitement and readiness for the coming of the Lord: Be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”

Thirdly, a heart full of love is one imbued with a deep spirit of faithfulness: “Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so” (that which is expected of him).

Knowing what’s coming up ahead makes for good vision. Knowing what one ought to do because of what’s sure to come, and doing accordingly both make for heart-sight. In Christian life, we need more than just insight. We need heart-sight. For it is only with a believing and loving heart that one sees rightly and fully.

Cebu City, August 6, 2007 – Feast of the Transfiguration.

LIVING IN FAITH, WATCHING IN HOPE

I would like to think of today’s liturgy as a lesson on keeping one’s sense of balance in these postmodern times all too prone to all forms of excesses and imbalances. In these confusing times marked by the pull of so many conflicting ideologies and positions on the political, cultural, philosophical, and – even – religious planes, it is very easy for all to fall for one of such extreme positions.

Not even the Catholic Church is spared this particular difficulty and monumental challenge to evangelization. On the one hand, there are those of us who fall for the cut-and-dried and what appears to be a no-nonsense approach to the faith offered by modern-day milleniarists who overly emphasize an apocalyptic, if frightening, vision of impending disaster and gloom that mark the coming of the “end times.” Supported by the teachings of so-called “visionaries” that espouse doubtful theology, and reports of various, alleged, but, unapproved Marian apparitions all over the world, these Christian Catholics spend all their time preaching a “fire and brimstone” type of gospel, based more on fear, than on love and healthy, balanced, and theologically sound devotion.

On the other hand, we have a growing bunch of those who, in their desire to give quick answers to people who are lost in a culture either of material affluence or the utter lack of it, a culture characterized either by overflowing wealth or utmost penury, the gospel gets reduced to a message of prosperity solely for the here-and-now, on the one hand, or one that identifies salvation solely with the hereafter, on the other, leaving people only with the promise of retribution and spiritual salvation only at some unknown time in the future.

One trend identifies salvation with a “this worldly” reality of earthly prosperity and well-being. The other extreme would have people look at this salvation as an “other worldly” reality, as something that will take place only in the after-life. For some misguided Christians, passage to this other worldly reality entails a whole lot of frantic efforts on their part, characterized mostly by endless reparation for one’s sins and the sins of all the world, not letting one’s guard down at anytime, for the “end of the world is near.” Christian life is thus reduced to a life of unnecessary suffering … the more suffering, the better … in order to live what they refer to as their vocation to be “victim souls” for Christ. Suffering of any kind, is not to be shunned, but accepted, even sought for. For others on the other extreme, suffering is to be avoided at all cost, and salvation is identified with material abundance and prosperity, which makes salvation purely a this worldly affair.

It is important that our faith is not based on a misguided interpretation of biblical passages taken apart from the totality of the whole of Christian revelation that comes to us both in Scripture and Tradition. A fundamentalist (and narrow) understanding would have us focus solely on apocalyptic eschatology. Were this to be our sole focus, then the emphasis of our understanding would be on the end of THIS world as we know it. If so, then, our sights are to be directed towards the external signs that are spoken of in several passages in the bible, namely, those symbolic events mentioned such as the stars and the moon falling from the firmament up above, or the reality of wars all over the world, or the sinfulness of humankind. What follows logically from this is the need for us to set a date, or predict a definite time for the “end of the world.” Fear, not love, would then lead us to do what it takes to “appease” a basically angry God, whose hand poised for punishment, could not be further restrained anymore. The here-and-now or the present loses its savor, its importance, and value. What matters more than anything else is one’s readiness to face this impending doom of God’s judgment to a sinful humanity. The world, as we know it, is basically sin-stained, evil, and is therefore, not to be given much attention to. Holiness is to be understood as running away from the world, as one does to a plague.

Today’s readings, though, appear to focus more on prophetic eschatology. They speak about the end of a world, as distinct from the end of the world.

Today’s liturgy, very much like that of last Sunday’s, offers us a lesson on perspective, on a balanced biblical and theological outlook on the meaning of life in the world as we know it, and our attitude towards what this same world can offer us.

The right perspective begins with a very important truth. The Book of Wisdom establishes that it was God who saved and glorified Israel: “For when you punished our adversaries, in this you glorified us whom you had summoned.” The Letter to the Hebrews further deepens this truth, by capitalizing on Abraham’s faith, who obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” The same faith led Abraham to follow God’s will: “By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son…”

All this is an illustration of the perspective of people who have faith, a perspective that enables people to see God in control of history, a God whose future victory and coming is certain, but a God, who is also present and active here and now, in this world, in this life, in these present times. This perspective of faith would have us acclaim with the psalmist: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.” This perspective of faith would also lead us to appreciate, accept, and enjoy the world which is the fruit of His creation. Legitimate pleasures in this world and in this life are not necessarily bad and sinful. The world, per se, is not evil, for God can never create evil. By itself, it ought not to be despised and avoided. For this is the world that the Lord has given us, the place of our salvation, the locus and starting point of our search for holiness and union with God.

To live with the perspective of faith, however, does not mean living irresponsibly and without the need for any parameters, without any form of concrete moral and spiritual boundaries. To live by faith, as the same readings tell us, is really to live in vigilance, in an attitude of hopeful watching. This right perspective would have us be careful about absolutizing material goods. This right perspective would have us put possessions and belongings in the right place. They are important alright, and definitely useful – even, needed. But they must be seen in their right context: “Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” In other words, compared to the pearl of great price,” material wealth, and the search for it, ought to take a back seat.

Christian life, then, at least as far as today’s readings are concerned, has to do with living in faith in the here-and-now and in the “already,” and watching in hope for the hereafter, for the “not yet” of this same faith. At bottom, it has to do with a sense of balance, that comes from a right perspective of things, events, people, material goods, and the world. With so much and something so great in store for us believers, we would do well to be reminded: “Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day the Son of Man will come.” (Communion antiphon)

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