Have we ever found ourselves saying, or heard someone say: “My boss or my colleague is a Catholic, but he or she is the most difficult person, or the most unpleasant person, in the office?” or, worse still, do we have this nagging feeling that some people are saying this about us in our work place?
21 'It is not anyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.
That is what today’s Gospel says. Today’s readings, as the scriptures do every so often, invites us to take stock of the quality and authenticity of our discipleship as followers of Christ. Are we living as Christ taught us?
The First reading comes at the end of a section of the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 4 – 11) when Moses, having led the Israelites for 40 years of wondering in the desert, is preparing them to enter the Promise Land. It is a strong reminder to remain faithful to God’s law, because God’s law is meant to guide Israel, to establish God’s justice and safeguard the rights of the weak. Israel, by follow God’s law, would be blessed with God’s protection. On the other hand, by rejecting God’s law the people of Israel will eventually have to reap the consequence of injustice and oppression. Something we can see from the news around the world where injustice and oppression leads to the disintegration of entire societies.
In a long exhortation, Moses reminds Israel of the Ten Commandments and also pronounces these words (Dt 6: 4-5):
4 Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
These words, known as the Shema Israel (or Hear O Israel), are taken as Israel’s creed even today, the heart of Jewish belief and a prayer recited daily. When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus would quote the Shema in the Gospel of Mark 12: 29-31, as the first part and add,
 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
These summarise the essence of the Ten Commandments and invites us to go even further, because while the Ten commandments present us a list of “do nots” (you shall not kill, you shall not steal, and so on); Jesus invites us to go further, to pro-actively love those around us, whoever they may be, especially those in need.
Following from the first reading, the Gospel reading today comes from the end of the section of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 5-7) where Jesus gives us the Beatitudes and the Our Father. Having taught his disciple how to live according to God’s law of Love, Jesus then says – not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter his kingdom. Just because we say we are Christians does not necessary make us followers of Christ if we do not orient our lives according to Christ and his teachings. Only when we do so, Jesus says, would we be building our house on Rock which would withstand wind and rain. When the storms and trials come in our lives can we hold firm to our faith in Christ?
St Paul in the Second reading says that faith in Christ comes before the law; that mere observance of religious practices is not what saves us, but genuine conversion to Christ. Perhaps for us who come for Mass regularly, the honest question is if the Mass is making a difference in our daily lives or if we are only paying lip service to our Christian identity.
(Justified by faith, not the Law)
Faith is not just belief, an intellectual agreement that Jesus exists. Rather, from that belief in Christ we need to coming to KNOW the person of Jesus in relationship, as someone alive and real to us. The first step, as we all know, lies in our prayer lives where we spend time with Jesus. In that relationship, following God’s law is not about forcing ourselves to do things we do not like, but it is something that willingly flows from who we are and who we love. In any friendship or relationship, we enjoy someone’s company and follow the person willingly, out of love, respect and admiration; not the threat of punishment.
It is only in a relationship that we can speak of trust, because we trust a person, not an abstract idea. We trust that Christ will accompany us and provide for us, so we have no fear of sharing the gifts and the abundance we have. Often, deep down inside, we feel that we have to the face the world alone, and that leads us to feel that we need to hold on so hard to the wealth or the little that we have; because we fear we will not have enough in the future.
Yet this process of building our faith on Christ our Rock takes time. For most of us, our trust in God grows little by little. Often we need to start by trusting God in the little things and through the experience of seeing God provide in these instances, are we then able to trust in bigger things and to hold on to Christ when the storms and challenges come.
Faith, therefore, is not about being chained to religious observances to earn our merit points to heaven. Faith frees us to transcend our human weaknesses and fears to become fully human in our capacity to love, even to making sacrifices for others, even to the cross.
On the 2nd of March, just a few days ago, Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, a Catholic, was gunned down for speaking up for the rights of oppressed and marginalized Christians in his country. His name was Shahbaz Bhatti, and his assassination was reported internationally. In fact, the previous issue of the Catholic News had carried a story about him just a week before he was assassinated. Mr Shahbaz had received many death threats but he said in the Catholic News article “I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.” That is exactly what happened.
What is more telling though, is what his bishop said about him in an interview on a website owned by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
“Bhatti’s daily routine was that he used to go to meet his mother, to pray with her… I remember him as a child; he regularly attended the Church; he was passionate since childhood.”
Mr Shanbaz was a man who built his faith on the Rock of Christ and nurtured it through daily prayer. Like any relationship, faith grows. Only when we are faithful in the little things will we be able to be faithful in the great.
Perhaps it is fitting to end today with the words of this simple man, a school teacher who became a government minister to champion the cause of the poor and oppressed, knowing that he was risking his own life. A man who not only called Jesus his Lord, but who lived it to the full.
In his own book titled ‘Christians in Pakistan. Where Hope is Tested’*, Mr Shanbaz had said:
“I want that my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and indicate that I am following Jesus Christ. Because of this desire, I will consider myself even to be more fortunate if - in this effort and struggle to help the needy, the poor, to help the persecuted and victimized Christians of Pakistan - Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him.
“I do not feel any fear in this country. Many times the extremists wanted to kill me, many times they wanted to put me in prison, they threatened me, they harassed me and they terrorized my family...
“Until my last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus, to serve the poor humanity, the suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor.
“I want to share that I am very much inspired by the Holy Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. The more I read the New and Old Testament, verses from the Holy Bible, the word of God, the more it gives me strength, determination. When I see that Jesus Christ sacrificed His everything and our Lord sent His Son for our redemption and salvation, I ask myself how I can follow that path of Calvary. And our Lord said: “Come to me, hold your cross, and follow the path”. The verses I like the most from the Holy Bible read: “I came to you when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was imprisoned”.
So when I see the poor people, I think Jesus might have come to me. Hence I always try to help, along with my colleagues, those in need, the hungry, the thirsty.
As Lent approaches, let us take it as a time to take an honest look at where we are right now in our faith Journey. Do we trust God? Are we living that faith or only paying it lip service? Let us use the season as a time of purification and renewal of our commitment to God.
Let us therefore pray, that we, weak though we are, may resolve to build our lives on the Rock who is Christ. Let us pray for the grace to set aside time to pray and nurture our relationship with Jesus, to be conscious of Christ present in those around us in our homes and workplaces, and for the grace to grow in love for them. A love that shows in our actions and daily lives.
* Shabhaz Bhatti, Cristiani in Pakistan. Nelle prove la speranza, Christians in Pakistan. Where Hope is Tested, Marcianum Press, Venice 2008 (pp. 38-42) http://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/node/6811
Scholastic Gregory Tan,S.J.
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