May 29, 2011
To Love is to Obey
A great king was well loved by his people. Unfortunately, he developed a serious heart disease, and needed a heart transplant. When the people heard this, they gathered outside the palace in front of the king’s bedroom. It was such a touching sight to behold, as the people were crying and each one shouting, “Take my heart, O my King!” The king was truly moved by the display of affection from his people. But he did not know whose heart he will take, for each one is saying, “Take my heart, O my King!” Finally, he told the crowd: “I am going to throw down a feather. I will take the heart of the one on whom the feather lands.” Then he threw down the feather on the crowd. It floated in the air for some time and gradually descended upon the people. But it could not land on anyone – because each one, while screaming, “Take my heart, O my King”, would also blow the feather away. In other words, their love for the king is only in words, without the corresponding action and commitment.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Very clearly, the proof of our love of God is our obedience to His commandments. Jesus compressed all these commandments into one, namely, the commandment of love. At the Last Supper, he declared: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, if we really love God, we must follow all His commandments, particularly that of love of our neighbor.
The Apostle John is very clear and strong on this: “Whoever says, “I love God,” but hates his brother is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen” (1John 4:20). This is true with many of the so-called nominal Christians. They loudly profess their love of God, but they also continue in their selfish ways, ignoring and inflicting harm to their neighbor. After all, like the people of the king in our story, it is easier to pronounce words of love, but it is a completely different thing to manifest this love in actions of fidelity, generosity and sacrifice.
The world is seriously ill. Its illness is called selfishness. It is the root cause of the many serious problems that we see in our society today. Due to selfishness, people are obsessed with the ambition of becoming rich, powerful and popular. Greed, materialism and pride rule their hearts. This results in all sorts of troubles, sufferings, abuses and the rapid spread of the culture of death. We are now reaping the fruits of selfishness and greed that we planted. We are simply following the footsteps of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They knowingly disobeyed God’s commands in pursuit of their selfish desires and ambition. Such disobedience brought about death and all the troubles and problems of humanity.
The present time can be aptly described as the era of disobedience. Never in its history has the world become so flagrantly and stubbornly disobedient as it is today. Look at what is happening now. God explicitly forbids divorce. But as of now, all countries in the world have legalized divorce, except for two: Malta and the Philippines. But in a couple of weeks, Malta will hold a referendum on whether to legalize divorce or uphold the sanctity of traditional marriage.
God commanded: “Thou shall not kill.” But killing babies through abortion has been legalized in so many countries. As Blessed Mother Teresa said, “If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” So mankind finds itself in the so-called “slippery slope” that begins in contraception, leading to abortion and capital punishment and goes down to euthanasia or assisted suicide. If this downward slide – courtesy of the culture of death – cannot be stopped, the world will inevitably plunge itself towards destruction and annihilation.
The only way to reverse this downward trend is through obedience. Just as the disobedience of Adam and Eve that led to death was reversed by the perfect obedience of Jesus and Mary, so also we can bring in new hope for a better world through our humble and unconditional obedience to God.
But this is not easy. It is difficult to obey God’s commands, given the fallen nature that we have. But it is doubly difficult nowadays due to the hatred and opposition of this world. It has come to a point now when people think that to disobey God is perfectly normal and even commendable, while those who obey God and uphold His teachings are ostracized and branded as unnatural, out of touch with reality and killjoy. To pray in schools and public places and to display the cross and other religious symbols are now declared unconstitutional. Medical professionals who refuse to perform abortion and sterilization are in danger of losing their job. Doing the right thing is denounced and penalized, while violating divine and natural law is encouraged and legalized.
But this present environment, no matter how adverse and hostile, should not stop us from obeying God and doing right. St. Peter assures us in the second reading today: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” Indeed, for faithful Christians, disobedience is never an option. Jesus said that we must show our love of God by our obedience: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” As St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”
And most especially, obedience is our sure way to be united with God. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His.” To those that obey him, Jesus promised, “On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
141 Henry Street
New York, NY 10002