The Way of Grace

17 October 2006: Tuesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Galatians 5, 1-6; Psalm 119; Luke 11, 37-41
St. Ignatius of Antioch and the 10th Death Anniversary of Richie Fernando

Today, the readings warn us about our pharisaic tendency to reduce our faith in a series of laws.

The Way of Law: The Pharisaic Tendency. Let me first explain about those who want to get circumcised in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The Galatians were pagans and they were not circumcised while the Jews practice circumcision as a rite of passage. And if the Galatians would like to become circumcised, logically, he or she has to accept the whole law which circumcision introduces. It is like entering a fraternity: if you agree to be initiated --- whether the fraternity employs the paddle or any source of pain --- you don’t just accept the part of the initiation, but you also accept the whole law that governs the fraternity. The neophyte is bound now to all the other rules and regulations as well. You take on their lifestyle and values. No ifs and buts. This is the way of the law. So in the first reading, when Paul refers to circumcision, he refers to the way of law. The way of the law says that one becomes a Christian only when one has followed the law to the letter. It puts salvation in the level of human achievement. In the Gospel, Jesus calls fools the Pharisees who care more about external observances as washing, than one’s internal disposition. There is in each of us the tendency to be Pharisaic!

Simply, a person can reduce Catholicism as merely doing what is required by the book: attend mass every Sunday and other holy days of obligation, come to confessions and receive communion frequently and pray the rosary. A question came to me once about praying the rosary: If you did not follow the intended mysteries of the rosary on the specific day --- for example, you recited the Joyful Mysteries on a Tuesday or Friday --- did you commit a sin? For Paul and Jesus, this is inconsequential compared to what is in the heart.

The Way of Grace. However, there is another way. The way of grace is not like the way of law. The way of grace puts one into a personal relationship with God; the essence of that relationship is not placed on a series of rules and regulations, but on a person. The way of grace puts salvation as a gift from God, and the good that we do is our response and participation to it. Jesus said that if one gives alms to the poor, one becomes clean! This is the way of God’s grace: faith working through love. Paul has his life as an example: he placed himself and his sins on the mercy and love of God, and gave himself totally to Jesus whom he gets to personally know and love, even if he actually did not meet him. St. Ignatius of Antioch whose feast we celebrate today said, “I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the earth. My desire is to belong to God.”

Let me illustrate that further. Today, many of our young have Friendster, Multiply or Blogger accounts. In their web pages, they have data about themselves: their personal information, their interests, a portion for photos and videos, and even testimonies from others about themselves. It even includes tags so that people who have the same interest will be able to find them. The webpage attempts to introduce the ‘whole’ of the person to another one in cyberspace. However, we all know that it would be impossible. To know someone fully well, one has to meet the person (as eyeballing [to meet, young generation term]), spend time with them, experience their inconsistencies and mood swings, etc. There is something that we learn about a person that cannot be put into words, but we do understand them --- it is just difficult to articulate them fully and completely. But because we do understand the person, we get to know what he or she likes and intuitively their taste. When Paul tells us about faith, it is like saying this to another person, “Basta, kilala ko siya. Hindi niya tayo bibiguin (I know the person. He will not let us down). And if the other asks, how do we know? We just cannot explain it, and we just say, “Because she is my friend!” We all know that the statement, “She is my friend” does not completely tell us what we know, but tacitly, it actually does!”

The Way of Law vs the Way of Grace. For Paul, the way of law and the way of grace are mutually exclusive. That means you either follow one or reject the other. You cannot have both. That is why Paul says that Christianity is based on the love we have on the person of Jesus, not on the following of the law. He said, “For in Jesus Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

So if we follow the way of grace in Christianity, it demands more than just following the law. It means that studies the Bible well, prays using Scriptures (and not just mouthing oral prayers), and spends quiet times in reflection, so that one establishes a true relationship with the person of Christ. Furthermore, he or she is not just bound by the letter of the law but by its spirit. He begins to discern the will of God in different situations.

We are therefore challenged to follow the way of grace, and be cautious from our Pharisaic tendencies. If one follows the way of grace, one discovers more than what one learns in a religion class or in a short catechism. When one discovers who Jesus really is, one becomes engaged to Him that one gives oneself totally and completely. No ifs and buts. For some, it did require a lot of dying and pain! Some actually died as many saints and martyrs! Ten years ago, my friend and batch-mate, Richie Fernando died from a bomb while protecting his student! This is what he wrote before he died, “I know where my heart is. It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphan.”

Such is the way of grace--- in other words, the way of love. When one genuinely loves a person, one logically also welcomes pain. So choose: the way of law or the way of grace. If you choose the way of law, you gain a book. If you choose the way of grace, you gain the person of Christ.

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