[Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Assumption Chapel, 16 Sept. 2017.]
Our readings for this evening coming from Matthew and the Book of Wisdom are beautiful and challenging, but I would like to focus on the message for us of the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:7-9). It is a profound passage short enough to be memorized, but important enough to be prayed over for life:
Brothers and sisters, none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
It is a quiet text, I think, talking to us gently; we are told our lives and deaths are not for our selfish purposes, but for the Lord’s. It is a text that invites us to look at our lives and ask ourselves, for what or for whom do we live, and should we ever face death, which for us all is certain, for what or whom shall we die. It is a gentle text which quietly suggests an ultimate disjunction: either we live for ourselves, or we live for the Lord. Either we die for ourselves, or we die for the Lord. It is not a text which diminishes our selves, which themselves are a gift of the Lord, but a text which proclaims fullness of our selves in living for the Lord, and the ultimate meaning of dying in having lived for the Lord.
While it is healthy to dream and plan for our futures in life, as all people who are young are encouraged to do, St. Ignatius suggested that for life it is salutary to look at our lives from our deathbed, first, because after death there is either salvation or damnation, but more so to be able to check the quality of our living today. Is the life that we live truly good? Is it genuinely joyful? Or is it wasted in pure drudgery on that which I know is meaningless. Today we may not need St. Ignatius’ deathbed exercise to reflect on the quality of our living. With every passing day the news reminds us increasingly that death is immanent, and life is precarious. We may dream to live a comfortable family life in a beautiful home, but each day we are reminded how such dreams realized at great sacrifice, and sometime even through great compromise, may be shattered by an earthquake, a typhoon, an act of criminality, a police action that mistakenly claims our lives, a deadly terrorist action taken for some unholy purpose. What has happened to Kian de los Santos, unfortunately, can happen to anyone of us; and what exploded in Marawi can be repeated in other cities like our own. Or in London, in a subway filled with innocent people. Death is in the air as North Korea shoots missiles over Japan in aggressive self defense, as South Korea responds by firing two missiles (one of which fails) in self-defensive warning, and as the US President Trump, whose tweets fill us all with confidence, says he does not discount to the arrogant threats of North Korea a military response of fire and fury that the world has not yet seen.
Paul says: none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
We must admit, I think, that for many of us this is not true. We live for survival, we live to keep living. To live, we live for money. To flourish, we live for more money. We spend the money on many “necessities” that most people don’t need. We relate to God to grant us success and to protect us from harm. We help other people to feel good. And when death comes, well, we pray, so that in death we might be saved.
But this type of a life is far from what Paul articulates as true of the genuine Christian. The Christian does not live for oneself. The Christian does not die for oneself. The Christian lives and dies for the Lord.
What that means in your lives you may need to work out for yourselves in genuine reflection, prayer and spiritual conversation.
Paul says: none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself… What compels that is not a matter of force; it is a matter of freedom. What makes that imperative is not a matter of fear, it is a matter of love. It is the outcome, I think, of prayer that can take place right in this chapel before the crucified Lord, where we appreciate that Jesus did not live for himself as he preached to open to us the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not die for himself as he was misunderstood and killed for what he preached. Jesus lived and died for us. This is part of Paul’s message for today:
… whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. He died, that he might deal death its deathblow. If Jesus lived and died for us, it is now only fitting that we now freely respond with Paul’s words: For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
Living for the Lord does not mean giving up our friends or our families or our civic responsibilities. Quite the opposite. It means making the Lord proud in the way we value our friends, care for our families and discharge our responsibilities to the common good. It means glorifying the Lord in the way love, serve, and forgive. It means cherishing a friend as Jesus cherishes us as friends; it means caring for our families and being faithful to our spouses until married life reflects the mutual love between God and his people; it means pursuing God’s will in our workplaces and in advancing the common good. I wonder how many of the congressmen who so generously voted all of one-thousand pesos for the Commission on Human Rights even considered the Lord. Even in politics, Christian politicians ultimately serve not Speaker Alvarez nor President Duterte nor Mammon nor Power nor their own selfish ambitions, but the Lord. Why? Ultimately because: if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. On this is decided salvation or damnation. “Whatever you have done for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done to me” (Mt. 25:45). the Lord said. When it is clear that we live not unto death but unto life, it is the Lord who says or does not say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Mt. 25:34).