Reflection for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
Today’s readings underscore the centrality of a person’s heart, that what it eventually in freedom and supposedly in responsibility, manifests through speech and action, lies at the core of a person’s willfulness to think and do what it has mindfully deemed right and proper under its present contexts. The heart therefore determines the person, and which in faith we believe is in turn, determined by the Spirit of God.
The heart also reveals the person, in spite of false images created by or socially imposed upon it. A person may attempt to speak and act according to these false images, but its underlying character will almost always be exposed through subtle behaviors and movements that come naturally from its own unique way of thinking and feeling. One cannot simply speak or act consistently if such speech and action is not fully grounded in the heart; the exterior depends on the interior. Falsehoods may be shrouded to a certain extent, even leaving unfulfilled promises, misery and injury in its wake, but as it is often said, what is inconsistent with reality, can never ever be made to fit it. Sirach remarks, ““The defects of a man are seen when he begins to speak, … a man is tested by his conversation, … a man’s feelings can be detected in what he says,” and he wisely advises to be vigilant and critical, “Praise no one before he has spoken.”
This is what the Christ meant when he taught us, “… each tree is known by the fruit it bears.” Goodness can only come from the goodness that is already in the heart; and evil can only come from the evil that is the corruption of the goodness that once was in the heart. Authentic goodness cannot be projected from what is actually evil, or what still remains to be evil; evil must be converted through the self-acknowledgment of its own corruption, and transformed through the support of the goodness of others, in order for the person’s ‘original’ goodness to shine forth anew. Any so-called goodness projected from what is actually evil, are what we believe to be demonic deceptions which abound almost uncontrollably in today’s world. But whatever the sources of these deceptions are, whether supernatural or not, the same Christ exhorts us to eliminate the deceptions, not by likewise eliminating but by reforming the deceivers.
The Apostle Paul thus impels us to “be steadfast, and do not be moved, … [to] improve constantly, in the work of the Lord, knowing that, with him, your labor is not without fruit,” because he is reassuring us that God is already triumphant over evil, “Death has been swallowed up by victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Sin is the sting of death, to kill, and the law is what gives force to sin. But give thanks to God, who gives us the victory, through Christ Jesus, our Lord.” So then, if we will allow the Spirit to inspire our conversion and transformation, we will definitely succeed. As for the service we render for the kingdom of God, like goodness, it can only come from the goodness that is already in the heart. We need to ‘receive God’ first in joy and mercy before we can ‘give God’ to others with as much happiness and compassion. We cannot expect to be truly forgiving if we have not ourselves gone through the sorrow of contrition, and the subsequent comfort of reconciliation; we cannot give in abundance if we have not received in abundance. Otherwise, our service becomes merely a mask of insincerity for our pride and avarice. Whether we choose to serve people in their secular or spiritual affairs, we must be forewarned that superficial selflessness is not only hypocritical but also dangerous: We are blind people leading other blind people towards a common destruction.
Our model is and has always been the Christ. He admonishes, “First remove the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye.” He who is eternally immaculate, gave us the ultimate example of not only giving what others needed, but of giving up his own life for others who have already lost hope, as the most appropriate response to the boundless love of Abba. A totality surrendered for the sake of, and in gratitude for the graces of infinity; this is the essence of holiness.
This is the purpose of life worth striving for.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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