Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

2nd Sunday of Lent (B)
March 8, 2009

Something must be wrong here somewhere! God must be kidding. Or He must have missed some little detail somewhere. Why did He have to give, only to get it back cruelly after? Why the gift of Isaac to old Abraham and then ask him to do the ultimate sacrifice? It just does not make sense. There is simply no logic here, no rhyme, nor reason to it all. We all are familiar with these questions. Most of us, if not all – who have lived a life beyond celebrating birthdays with cake, clowns, chocolate, and cotton candies galore have gone face to face with the mystery of suffering, the unfathomable reality of pain and loss and disappointment and disillusionment.

We know well enough by experience… that at times, things just do not add up; events in our lives just do not follow cut-and-dried rules, no matter how simplistically, at times, certain newfangled doctrines would try to explain them away so facetiously.
Life, and everything that has to do with God’s inscrutable will, just does not follow what we myopic mortals love to follow – the man-made law of linear causality! That law would attribute a cause to anything that happens in the world. If there is an effect, there must be a cause that can be isolated in no time. If there is a problem in the world, all those who “know better” ought to gang up, unite and isolate the root cause of it all. That cause ought to be eradicated and banished. If the alarum bells of war are ringing all over the world, this is just a communal sense of righteous indignation of level-headed people who know better as to have isolated the real root cause of all this belligerence. Therefore, according to linear thinking philosophy, the effect will disappear if the cause is banished. There would be peace if only all the “good guys” united and banished all the “bad guys.” By the same token, if you are undergoing any form of bad luck, do not attribute it to bad genes…it must have been caused by some bad action done by you or your ancestors in the past and karmic retribution is just catching up with you. Every effect follows from an identifiable cause. And that cause must either be eradicated and corrected – or accepted, as one’s deserved fate because the law of karma has come around to finally set things aright for everyone.

The former attitude would lead us to take active and aggressive action once the cause is identified. Thus, people who are filled with righteous indignation feel the need to wage war in order to neutralize all those identified causes and purveyors of evil in the world. For the point of view of these people, mostly rightists who hold immense power over the future of so many people, war is never wrong in certain cases. There must be a just war, according to them. (As to how they define which cases merit a war is simply beyond me!)

The second approach would make people passively sit out and accept with total resignation all that is happening and is bound to happen (and still be philosophical about it!). These people would always sport a perpetual, cherubic smile on their lips, an attitude that is mistaken for Christian resignation and acceptance. But this is nothing more than passive acceptance of fate that is brought about again, by the karmic law of retribution. These people would see war and the suffering people undergo as an inevitable phase of purification until the “age of Aquarius” sets in and becomes a reality in full bloom.

Christian faith and Biblical revelation tell us clearly enough: death constitutes the wages of sin. Death is the fruit of sin. But this does not mean all personal suffering, even if it approximates a little form of death, is the effect of each one’s personal sin. Jesus already corrected that repeatedly in the Gospel accounts of healing that he did to people afflicted with various ailments. No…suffering need not be seen as an effect of personal sin, like B follows A, in perfect linear fashion.

Today’s account of the sacrifice asked for from Abraham is a clear case in point. There is suffering that is salvific, that is as mysterious as it is life-affirming and life-giving. There is legitimate suffering that cannot be explained away by New Age and western logic that follows the linear thinking automatic mode.
Today’s readings, as in the rest of the whole inspired book, we are reminded by the Lord, not so much to look for easy solutions outside of our persons, nor to simply accept things in passive resignation “because it is our fate to suffer thus,” or “because it is written in the stars and dictated by the alignment of the planets,” as to see the ultimate root of all suffering – the mysterious arena of one’s personal freedom, the locus of our personal choice, the seat of our personal power where good and evil designs find initial existence.

No, Christian faith tells us not to look for easy explanations like bad genes, bad actions of our ancestors, or even our own personal bad actions in the past now catching up with us, as New Agers would love to say. Our faith tells us to look for the real root of all evil – the human heart, and its capacity to plan and do good and evil.
In this battle and struggle between good and evil, solutions do not come only from us humans. God is on our side. God is the first one against evil, for evil was not created by Him. Evil was not caused by God. Evil is done by free and intelligent beings like us who choose to do evil, who decide to sin. And in this struggle, we are not allowed to correct the evil in the world, by resorting to another evil act. We just cannot hope to correct other people’s perceived evil acts by resorting to war, which in itself is evil.

We cannot right a wrong by doing another wrong. And we definitely are not entitled to kill, even if we think we are doing it in God’s name, just because somebody does what we perceive as evil.
St. Paul tells us today: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” Yes, the call of Abraham to sacrifice his only son is a prefiguration of the sacrifice which Jesus, the Son of God, did on our behalf.

There is no rhyme nor reason in it all. There is no logic. And it defies all forms of linear causality and linear thinking. In short, for the worldly wise, it does not make sense. But the fact is, it is God’s answer to the question of evil. It is God’s answer to man’s inhumanity to man.
The world today is rife with sinfulness. And we see sin’s fruits everywhere…weapons of mass destruction, terroristic acts, bombs that not only maim…they turn everything into cinders in a flash, killings in God’s name in many places, corruption in government and in society, a lot of greed and selfishness that stand behind untold suffering for millions. The list is endless.

There are those who follow the road of logic and linear causality. Let’s do war, they conclude. Let’s get rid of all corrupt people in society and government. Unfortunately, in this short-sighted way of doing things, we forget the fact that the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. The freedom fighters now who are being trained by the CIA are going to be the terrorists of tomorrow, now schooled and trained in building bombs and sowing terror with panache! We should never forget that the cohorts of Bin Laden who now sow terror all over the world were trained by CIA operatives two decades ago to rise up in arms against the Russians. We forget, above all, that evil resides in everyone’s heart, and we all are the potential terrorists, the potential murderers… “There but for the grace of God, go I!”

The response today after the first reading tells us in graphic language what we ought to do: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” To follow this road of the Lord… to follow Christ, is the way that leads to genuine freedom. This way does not follow the normal rules of logic. It does not follow what modern scientific men and women just love to follow: the path of linear causality and linear thinking. It follows the law of the Spirit, that law that leads to liberation and genuine freedom of heart.

Today, we are given a glimpse of what is in store for those who follow him. His transfiguration is an image of what we all are called to be and do. Like him, we are called to transform ourselves in Christ, for instance, to “turn all our swords into ploughshares” and to tread the paths that lead to peace. God Himself will then top off all this with our own transfiguration, as He did to His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. This, we cannot do on our own. Only God can do this. Only God can save us fully. For in the final analysis, there is no rhyme or reason to everything that happens and unfolds in the world. Nothing sufficiently explains all the major questions we have in life like why were we created, why there is suffering and pain, even for the innocent, why we have to die, etc. There are no quick human answers to these questions. There is a point when human certainty must bow down humbly to faith.

There is nothing that will explain all this sufficiently except God’s mysterious LOVE for all of humanity.
This LOVE transfigured Christ His Son. This love ought also to transform the world. And that transformation begins somewhere. It begins with you, with me, with all women and men of good will. Let us continue to pray that the hearts of world leaders, including Presidents Bush and Saddam, may be transformed, too, by the power of God’s mysterious love.