Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 26, 2008

Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / 1 Thess 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40

Our TV screens, which are getting bigger. brighter, and clearer all the time, are full of faces. Familiar faces, beautiful and handsome faces of our favorite anchorwomen and men, newscasters, actors and actresses, politicians, why even religious leaders and televangelists, they come straight out of the TV screens and invade the privacy of our living rooms (and bedrooms) every day of our lives. They become one with us. They form part of our daily regimen. We not only see them (even in the increasing number of glossy, expensive magazines that have, of late, made inroads to our national psyche). We also hear them talking above the normal din of everyday household noise. Who among us is not familiar with the faces of movie stars endorsing a favorite fast-food product, whether local or foreign? Who among us would not recognize politicians-turned-product endorsers whose faces are found in all our major thoroughfares?

We do not have to be searching far and wide to see the faces of those whom we love or admire. The society we live in is awash in all types of faces, of all shapes and sizes, all features and all traits. The faces we long to see are just a flip of a page or a click of that ubiquitous remote control away (or, increasingly, a click away in this social networking age via digital technology)!

There was a time when faces (and images of faces) were not too easy to find. Photography is less than 150 years old! Movie cameras just came into the scene less than a hundred years ago. Only churches and oratories had faces – images of God, the saints, and Biblical characters enshrined in awesome paintings, statues, murals and huge stained glass windows that not only portrayed pious faces of yore. They also told narratives of greatness, Christian heroism, sanctity and martyrdom. They told stories about a God who was in the famous words of a theologian, Otto, I think, it was – tremendum et fascinosum, (a tremendous and fascinating God), Rex tremendae majestatis (King of tremendous majesty)!

It was not difficult to look for the “face” of God. It was not difficult to see God everywhere. The world, to use the words of Hopkins, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” To be prayerful, to come to recollection, to fathom the depth of the mystery of this God all seemed simple and easy enough. Churches, and even little family altars, all spoke of a God whose face was near, whose presence was felt – albeit in the hushed, subdued tones of reverence inside dark, smoke-filled and candlelit chapels and naves. God’s face shone above all others. The face of holiness, the smells and sights of sanctity, were unmistakably present in the innumerable holy places of a not-too-distant past.

Today, the liturgy opens with a quote from Psalm 105:3-4 (the entrance antiphon). “Let hearts rejoice who search the Lord. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek always the face of the Lord.” This, we are counseled, amidst a time and culture awash in thousands of faces other than, apart from, and different from, the holy face of God.

Nowadays, the face of God, is buried under an avalanche of so many other faces. The countenance of God has long been blurred by the glitter and glamour of famous celluloid faces that invade our homes each day. The hushed and silent presence of a deeply felt divinity hiding behind a veil of mystery in chapels and churches and incense-filled altars all over has, for long, been replaced by the irreverence of noise, color, and action-filled images courtesy of the mass media of communication. Teresa Tomeo hits the nail right on the head. Speaking of the media, she wrote a book entitled appropriately and truly as “Noise.” The face of an attentive, listening and caring personal God has all but disappeared now in a culture that prizes a God somehow present in a kind of generic way through simple and short stories that somehow make the reader feel good about himself. Have you noticed how our bookstores are crammed with “inspirational” books that are nothing but anthologies of such stories that inspire, above all, and do no more than make us think pious thoughts that are then mistaken for deep religious sentiments? Spirituality thus is taken over by shallow religious feelings. Pious thoughts and feelings take the place of a deep religious personal commitment. It is no wonder that contemporary culture, according to many spiritual authors, stands witness to the eclipse of God in the lives of modern women and men of our times. God has been progressively overshadowed by the clutter of so much consumerism and materialism, on the one hand, and the self-centered pursuit of pleasure, on the other. The face of God is thus trivialized, if not taken for granted, or downright ignored.

Today, as we join the whole Church in giving fitting worship to the God who showed His face to Moses and the prophets of old, the God who showed His human face in Jesus Christ our Lord, His only Son, we are brought once more face to face with the reality of His ongoing presence in the Church, and in the world, and in the person of each and every believer.

Where is the face of God, according the first reading from the Book of Exodus? How are we to see His countenance? Exodus shows us where to find His face – in those of widows and orphans and aliens. These are the anawim – the poor of Yahweh, those who enjoy God’s predilection. These are those who, being poor, can only call on God who is their strength, their rock, their fortress, their deliverer. And God did not fail them. He showed His compassionate face to the needy, the weak and the powerless.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, gives thanks on behalf of the Thessalonians who “turned away from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven.” (1 Thess 1:9) In effect, he tells his spiritual sons and daughters that they did well turning their backs to false images, false faces of the true God. The Thessalonians did not fall for the call of idolatry and the worship of false gods.

The Gospel sheds further light on how to behold the true countenance of God. The way, Jesus says, is not through learning alone. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees of Jesus’ times prided themselves in being learned. They knew everything there was to know. The Pharisees were walking experts in the minutest details of the Law – all 613 provisions in all! The Sadducees loved philosophical and academic discussions. In today’s passage, one scholar, a Pharisee, was sent to trap Jesus and asked: Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” Jesus’ answer is the clincher for us today. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Herein lies the answer to our deepest inquiry today! Where are we to find the true countenance, the genuine face of God? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms! It is in LOVE. It is through LOVE. And it is only because of LOVE that we can see His face everywhere. St. John tells us: “God is love.” The best commandment is therefore to become what He is, to do as He did, “for love is of God.” “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4)

That love, however, ought not to rest solely in God. It ought to spill over to others. And as a sure-fire guarantee that it becomes a fruitful search for God’s countenance, we are commanded to give that love to God, others and oneself. We are told to love Him in the faces of the poor, the downtrodden, the needy, the widows and orphans who have no power whatsoever.

This is then, the only way we can see the true face of God. Those who are too preoccupied with their own selves, with their own concerns, their own selfish interests – in other words – those who do not know and have love other than for themselves, will miss God altogether. Too focused on their own countenance, they are bound to fail to see God in the faces of others. Again, to quote Hopkins, “Christ acts in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces.”