Christian Life is Not a set of Morality but a Response to Love by Archbishop William Goh
CatholicNews---Sunday September 22, 2019
Scripture Reading Col 3:12-17; Ps 150:1-5; Lk 6:27-38
Some people reduce Christianity to an ethical lifestyle.
This is particularly true of Catholics who tend to emphasize much on good works and obeying the commandments of God. Some Catholics fall back into legalism like the Jewish leaders during the time of Jesus. For them, salvation is a question of living up to the demands of the Mosaic Laws. This explains why they were so meticulous and anxious as to whether they have fulfilled the Mosaic Laws perfectly. When we are obsessed with which commandments or laws we have broken for fear of the punishment of God, especially in the next life, we too have taken the joy out of our Catholic Faith.
Being a Christian is primarily a calling. It is being chosen by the Lord.
St Paul wrote, "You are God's chosen race, his saints; He loves you." This is the starting point of Christian life. It is to be loved by God and chosen by Him to be His saints. Pope Emeritus Benedict in his encyclical wrote, "We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Deus est Caritas, 1) It is not about subscribing to a philosophy or a system of morality. Rather, it is an encounter with God in a personal way which is Christ, and as a result of this encounter, we change our perspective, horizon and understanding of life.
Indeed, the consequence of being loved by God in Christ is to live the life of Christ.
Pope Benedict wrote, "Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere `command'; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us." (Ibid) It is no longer trying to fulfil the command of Christ in continuity with the Old Testament, namely to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. (cf Mk 12:29-31) In this context, St Paul in the first reading draws out the implications of being loved and chosen by God. He is telling the Christians that they must now live a new life in Christ, not because they have to but because they want to, and this is a consequence of being baptized in Christ. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God". (Col 3:1-4)
What, then, does this Christian life consist of? Firstly, it is a life of compassion.
"You should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins." Indeed, what the world needs most is compassion, feeling with and for our fellowmen. This is the most important aspect of being a Christian that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. Jesus taught us, "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate." This compassion is expressed in our identification with those who are weak, those who are suffering, those who are hurt and injured. Even with our enemies, we are called to love them. There is nothing great about being Christian if we were to love only those who love us as pagans also do the same. (cf Mt 5:43-48)
How can we love our enemies and those whom we find difficult to love?
The key to compassion and forgiveness is to adopt a non-judgmental attitude.
The moment we judge a person, we already have made up our minds about the person. No matter what he or she says, we are already prejudiced. We will not be hearing the person and feeling with him because we are more preoccupied in judging him than entering into heartfelt experience and fears.
Nevertheless, the heart of forgiveness is more than just thinking logically why we should forgive our enemies but because of the forgiveness that we have received. St Paul said, "The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same." We forgive because God has first forgiven us. This is the best motivation for forgiveness. In spite of man's rejection of His love and betrayal, the Lord is ever ready to forgive us as He did with the apostles who betrayed Him. We can only forgive because the Lord has forgiven us. So, we are not asked to forgive using our own strength but rather the strength that comes from the forgiveness we have received from Him. Only by forgiving in return can we receive the full healing of God's forgiveness.
Secondly, Christians live a life of love in response to Christ's love for us.
"Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love." When we love, it is again always on account of God's love for us. We love only because He loved us first. We can love only because He gave us the capacity to love. St John makes it clear, "God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us." (1 Jn 4:9-12)
Thirdly, Christians are peacemakers because Christ gives us His peace.
Before He departed from them, the Lord promised His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives." (Jn 14:26) After His resurrection, He appeared to the timid and guilty disciples wishing them, "Peace be with you!" (Jn 20:19, 21) In the Beatitudes, the Lord says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Mt 5:9) We are all called to be messengers of peace. A Christian should not be causing troubleby making himself a nuisance because of gossiping, speaking harsh words, carrying tales, belittling others, throwing tantrums, pouting, getting angry and shouting, creating misunderstanding by accusing people wrongly without verification, especially through the social media, and causing division in the family or in the office. We should be fostering unity and harmony wherever we are, with our encouraging and enlightening words; and caring and loving actions.
Fourthly, Christian life springs from our gratitude to God for His love and mercy.
St Paul says, "Always be thankful." Gratitude is the expression of a humble heart. When we are grateful, we are drawn to love the person in return. It is not difficult to love those who love us. But many are not grateful to God because they do not see God as the source of their blessings. They think it is due to their merits and hard work. Without gratitude, we become demanding and lacking compassion towards others. Generosity towards others can only come from a grateful heart. This is the basis of Jesus' command to let go of those who are not fair to us in life. When we are grateful to God, knowing that all we have come from Him, we would not be calculative even with those who cheat us or treat us badly because we are just distributing what He has given to us.
To keep us focused in living the life of Christ, St Paul gave us the foundation of Christian life.
"Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God." Unless we spend time in worship, in praise, in thanksgiving, in prayer, in contemplation of His Word, in sharing our faith with one another, we cannot find the strength to do what Christ did. That is why we must put Christ as the centre of our lives in all that we do and think. St Paul wrote, "never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
(The full version of Archbishop's Daily Reflection was first published on Sept 12, 2019, Thursday, 23rd Week, Ordinary Time)