HOC FAC ET VIVES!
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
July 11, 2010
Last Sunday’s gospel confronted us with the true meaning of discipleship. Without resorting to sugar-coating, Jesus made us aware of the inherent difficulties attached to following the Lord: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” But we were exposed also to the bigger reality promised to those who are called to work for the Lord’s harvest. “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
This Sunday’s readings are a further deepening on the meaning of discipleship. They give us the absolute ideal, the heights to which every serious and solid believer ought to aspire after. Hoc fac et vives, the Lord tells us. Do this and you will live.
What exactly ought we to do? What in concrete does this close link between doing and living consist in, in our times, in our days, in our world?
Our generation is steeped in the desire for more in every conceivable way. We want bigger and more comfortable homes, more flashy cars, longer and longer leisure time, higher incomes, and longer lives. Ultimately we long for life and all the best it could offer. Even when we satiate ourselves a lot more than is necessary for us to go on living physically, deep down what we want is not really more calories, more sugar, more mortgages to pay, and more health problems. We want quality life. We long for the best for ourselves and our loved ones.
Even when we decide to do evil, it is not the evil we really are after, but the superficial good behind which evil hides. Philosophers have told us from many centuries back that people are motivated to act by what they mistakenly think is the good object. Even the devil with his wily enticements, appears to us, at least initially, as an “angel of light,” whose apparent intention is to cater to what will be beneficial to us on the surface.
We live fully… completely and totally. Or so we believe. But our living lacks an important component. It has lost its essential tandem … We have lost that which makes living truly worth all the striving after and the longing for. We lost the aspect of the “doing.” “Do this, and you will live,” the Lord tells us. Living fully, according to him, requires the grounding of “doing.” Living truly and completely has to entail willfulness. It has to have the inseparable component of “responsibility.”
There are many of us who live the good life by worldly standards. For still many more, having denied God, they see no reason for his laws. They live “la dolce vita,” unmindful of the will of someone greater than them who has left His word as a path that leads to fullness of life, a life in abundance as He envisioned it, as He created it. Having thrown this foundational truth outside the window, moral laws and principles simply have no voice in their lives anymore. They prefer to wallow in what the late Pope John Paul II prophetically called the “culture of death.” With no God to “mind the store,” at it were, there is a wide avenue for people to engage in acts that cater to “death” instead of life: procured abortions left and right, wars, terrorism, violence, corruption in and out of government, capital punishment, and various forms of infidelities, and break-ups of relationships.
We enjoy the “living,” minus the “doing.” We enjoy the right, without the corresponding responsibility. We want the gift, but not the giver; the dowry, but not the duty it entails. It is to such ilk that we all are, that the words of Moses ring timely and true: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.”
With all our heart, with all our soul … this ought to mark our attention and obedience to God’s will, with all of one’s being. This speaks of totality, of fullness, of completeness. This has nothing to do with half-measures. Rightly, then, does Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” says that “when Christ calls us, he bids us come, and die.” He calls us to life, but he also calls us to “doing” or “dying” so that we might truly live.
The concept of “God’s law” is not very popular in our days. People think of God’s law more like prohibitions, restrictions, and a general curtailment of personal freedom. But these very same people who find it hard to accept “God’s law” do not see any problem with “punishing evil-doers.” People who do not accept the concept of God’s law have no problem using the law of the land in doing away with signs of religion in emblems and public places. They use human law that emanates from God ultimately to “outlaw” God himself, and declare him “persona non grata” in their personal and family lives. God simply has no role to play in people’s decision to kill unborn children. The Church, who speaks in God’s name, has no business whatsoever in the bedroom, nothing to do with people’s choices, and should not meddle with other people’s bodies. A decision to do good or bad is simply a choice, devoid of any moral quality.
The funny thing is when people choose to do good, the whole world rewards them with citations, and extols them to the skies. But when people do wrong, they are seen as simply making choices. People can do good. But people cannot sin. With God and His will out of the picture, people just commit crimes that are illegal, or out of bounds with man-made laws. This paves the way for us to simply live, without the doing part.
Denial, however, does not do away with what is real. No amount of denial can change reality. This much, today’s readings tell us clearly: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life.” The law of the Lord may appear so lofty and so far from human reach, so impossible to do, and hard to live. But it is really very close to us. “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
Indeed, when we look closely at God’s law, not as restrictions and prohibitions, but as a gift, which it really is, things take on a far different meaning. Instead of a road that says “no entry,” we find a “path that leads to love.” Instead of indifference, we see compassion, like that of the good Samaritan. That Samaritan must have been busy eking out a living, but he was never too busy to do that which makes living really worth all the striving. He lived. He took time to love. And he did as love bade him do. At the end of the day, he made all the difference between those who merely lived, and those who behaved in accordance with their deep desire to live and love fully, “with all one’s heart, with all one’s being, with all one’s strength, and with all one’s mind.” Doing and living… Living and believing… Hearing and obeying… This is what Moses, Paul, the good Samaritan, and Jesus bid us do. “Do this and you will live.” “Go, then, and do the same.”