Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
23rd Sunday Year A
September 7, 2008

Readings: Ez 33:7-9 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mk 18:15-20

N.B. I am advancing this post for the 23rd Sunday as I am leaving tonight for Guam and I am not sure whether I can have access to the web.

The postmodern, globalized world that prizes individualism, personal success and achievement above most everything else, causes many people to drift apart from one another. As a priest, having been exposed to a relative variety of situations in different places, one thing I realize is the fact that even in very small externally tightly packed enclaves within subdivisions and posh villages, or simple barrios all over the country, there is a growing phenomenon of communities becoming gradually estranged from each other. Gone are the days of communities whose members know exactly what is going on with each other’s families, when everybody’s concern is everybody’s business, when there is a lot of “feeling for” others in a lot of ways.

I certainly miss the times when neighbors would – all in a good-natured way – check in on each other’s children or tend one another’s vegetable gardens, or, on occasion, offer one another whatever special dish one has cooked for merienda. More traditional communities of yore, certainly showed a little more caring and love for each other.

Contrast this to what goes on in most places now. Streets barricaded like as if they are preparing for a siege from the Israeli army; houses fortified by iron grills and heavy doors; neighbors who do not even see each other, let alone know one another … Our communities are drifting apart from each other.

Filipino sociologists speak, too, of the phenomenon of the so-called Filipino culture of insecurity. Unable to see much hope in government and governmental institutions, finding no sure support from other non-governmental agencies, sadly, including the Church, the Filipino family only finds itself as the source of any semblance of security. End result: Filipino family-centeredness; small-group centeredness; clannishness, and their close cousins. The “tayo-tayo” mentality (small group centeredness), with its negative connotations, is thereby affirmed and fostered, aided in no small measure by grinding poverty, the lack of opportunities, the weak economy, not to mention the problem of criminality, most of which can be violent and potentially deadly.

This is the backdrop against which today’s good news will have to situate itself!

All three readings today speak of responsibility for others. Ezekiel is appointed watchman for the house of Israel, given the responsibility to forewarn Israel when necessary, and to dissuade evildoers from their evil plots. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, assumes a more proactive stance as he admonishes them to owe no one nothing, except love. Four negative injunctions are summed up in one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” For its part, the Gospel according to Matthew, even goes farther and more proactive when Jesus tells his disciples to correct their brother or sister should they be in error, all in the spirit of Christian brotherly love.

There is a lot here in the three readings that is counter-cultural. Indeed, they run counter to the prevailing trends in our society and culture, as we have outlined above. And precisely for this reason, it is called Good News! It is good news for a variety of reasons. First, because it is a call to fullness and perfection. As St. Paul puts it, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Being responsible for others in the context of community is a concrete manifestation of this commandment of love. Second, it is good news because it offers an alternative to the current prevailing culture that really stifles the human spirit ultimately. Being cooped up in one’s own shell, as it were, focused on one’s personal concerns alone, mindful of one’s business alone, to the total disregard of others’ needs, is really to live only half a life. There is no fulfillment, no joy in living for oneself alone. Nowhere is this made more clear than in the case of a little community within a big subdivision that I am ministering to on occasion. The 50 or so households within that little enclave did not know one another, and did not care for each other’s concerns until some time ago, when they thought of organizing themselves, and, through the weekly sharing of the word of God and fellowship, they have become a veritable BEC (Basic Ecclesial Community). Now they meet once weekly for prayer, reflection on God’s Word, and common action on things that benefit the community as a whole. Interestingly enough, what initially brought them together was an experience of one potential common need: a fire that razed two houses within the neighborhood. That catalyzed them into action. They shared their resources. They began to help each other. They then graduated into praying together and reflecting together on the Word of God. They went even beyond mere common worship. They gelled together into action that concretized the unfolding salvation in their lives. Salvation thus has become both God’s - and theirs – to do. Salvation has become for them, not a finished, once-and-for-all act done by God alone in Christ, but something that is ongoing, something to which everyone is participating, and something that is born out of a commitment to love both God and others.

This is the most important reason (the third) why the call to be responsible for others in community is real good news. It is good news because it is something that does not take place passively, for which we do nothing but wait on God to act. It is good news because we have to make it happen – with God’s help, assuredly – but it has to be an ongoing proclamation. It is no longer a proclamation in word, but now a proclamation in works of love: by watching over others like a sentinel (like Ezekiel), by owing nothing but love to others, and through fraternal correction of those who err in some way.

To be honest, are we really capable of doing all this?

Let us go back to our culture and to our experience. I would like to think it is possible. Just look at how we dote on our clan. Just look at how we care for members of our family, our little group. Look at the noble ideals that the many fraternities and sororities in colleges and universities throughout the country stand for: brotherhood and sisterhood, unity, care for one another; protection and all sorts of support all the way, even up to adulthood and old age. There is a lot of love going on in our culture... a lot of concern for each other. What the good news would have us do, we already find in seminal form in our society.

And this is now the fourth reason why all this is good news. The semina verbi (the seeds of the Word), the Word of God in seminal form is already within us, in us, waiting to be tapped, waiting to be released. All we need to do is expand it, broaden its area of concern, make it inclusive and encompassing, and release the power within it to make of our society, our culture, our people – all of us as individuals – a more gentle and caring people.

Sounds all too good to be true? No, not really. Difficult? Well, yes. Indeed! Impossible to do? It will be, for as long as we do not know how to sift the chaff from the grain. Most people think that loving others means liking them. Most people equate loving with liking. If this were the case, then loving would really be impossible. For if this were so, then loving is nothing but a feeling. And feelings, like any other emotion, are something we cannot control. Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they are just automatic reactions from within us. We cannot not feel dislike for some individuals, for some events and places and objects. But we can decide to do good, to love and be responsible even for people we do not like.

And this is the fifth reason why all this is good news. We can do it… regardless of our feelings. Our feelings may spell D I S L I K E but no matter. We can still do good, be good for others, be solicitous for others’ welfare, etc.

And one final question to ponder… are we to receive any help from above to make this easier for us to do? Yes! The Gospel of today tells us: “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Curiously enough, the Lord, who calls us to love others in the context of community, offers us the very same community and togetherness as the source of strength to do what we ought to do: love others as we love ourselves. We are told again by the Lord: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

This is why he gathers us as one in the Eucharist such as we are celebrating here and now. In the sacrament of unity and love, we are gradually molded into a community of love. In the bread of God’s word that we break, in the bread of his body that we break and share, we are healed of our own brokenness, our own emotional distresses and other “feelings” that pose as obstacle to loving fully as God wants. When we come face to face with our brokenness and need for forgiveness and healing, when we realize that God loves us unconditionally and offers himself to us, “regardless of feelings” – when we get to understand that we are loved by him “warts and all” with no ifs and buts, and that he offers us his own broken body to be shared, we cannot but be led to do to others what he has done so graciously and so gratuitously to us. In this sense, loving becomes salvific. It ceases to be a chore, a duty, a “must” – something that we owe others to. It becomes its own reward. And then and only then can we say: OWE NO ONE NOTHING, BUT LOVE!