LOVING THE FAMILY OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JN 4:19-5:4; PS 72:1-2, 14-15, 17; LK 4:14-22 ]
What does the birth of Jesus mean for us? This is what we are called to contemplate with Mary during this period of Epiphany. The real purpose of Christ being born into humanity is in order that we might become children of God and hence members of God’s family. Christ came so that we can share in the life of God. There is this holy exchange that takes place. God became man so that man can become “god.”
How do we know we are reborn in Christ? St John tells us that “we can be sure that we love God’s children if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us; this is what loving God is – keeping his commandments.” Christmas is more than a sentimental festival or a season of merry-making and fun. The celebration makes sense only when we share in the rebirth of Christ as God’s children. This rebirth in Christ is seen by our love for Him in doing what He has commanded us. Indeed, the sign of love is not a mere nice feeling but in the actions we do for the person whom we love. To love is to desire to make the beloved loved. This is expressed in keeping His commandments. All children desire to please their parents because they love them. Conversely, parents too want to please their children and often pamper them because they love them. So love is more than just obeying the commandments of God, it is to seek to love Him in truth and in spirit.
How are we to love God? He wants us to love Him in others. This is because God came for all of us. This is the reason for the Incarnation too. He wants to be one of us, to feel with us and to be identified with us in our sufferings and struggles. So the greatest love we can give to God is not just spending time in prayer and adoration and contemplation but in charity. St John says, “Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that he has given to us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother.”
Who is this “brother” that we are called to love? First and foremost, this brother is a member of the Christian family. We are therefore obligated not just to love our loved ones but to love all Christians. This is because as St John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.” To love someone is to love whoever he or she loves. Indeed, many young people feel that their parents do not love them, in spite of what they have done for them, simply because they reject their friends. Not welcoming their friends is as good as hurting their sentiments and their feelings. This is true in every area of life. As a priest who was a great lover of dogs once said to us, “If you love me, love my dogs!” So if you love God, then love His children. Every parent wants his children to be loved, appreciated and recognized in life.
So we must ask ourselves, what kind of love do we give to our own family members, and then by extension, to fellow Catholics in the church, in our neigbourhood, in Singapore and beyond our shores? The truth is that for many of us, our love is very parochial minded and inward looking. We only reserve our love for those who love us, our special friends, but we do not reach out to others around us, whether they are our colleagues or Catholic neighbours. We keep the love among our small little clique and do not try to include others into our family. Indeed, the Church is called Catholic because it is universal. Many Catholics fail to realize that they need to help other Catholics beyond their family, parish and Singapore. We are called to help the poorer Catholics, the poorer parishes and those who are in need of resources and not spend all we have on ourselves and our loved ones.
Secondly, we are called to love beyond our Catholic Family to those who do not know Him. That was what Jesus did in today’s gospel. We read that Jesus came to Nazareth, His hometown, to preach in the synagogue. After reading the text from Isaiah and hearing Him declare, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. We are told that “he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.” So long as the words of Isaiah were applied to the Jews, they were happy. Jesus could have just ended His teaching about the prophecy of Isaiah being fulfilled in their days. But He did not. Following His exposition, He gave a good wake up call to His fellow Jews that this Good News of deliverance, liberation and restoration of their dignity, poverty, physical and spiritual health was not meant only for the Jews but for all, including the Gentiles. When they heard this, they were incensed and unable to accept that God’s blessings could be given to others besides the Jewish people.
Yet, the truth remains that God has no favourites. This is what St Paul wrote, “there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Rom 2:11f) In the gospel, St Luke wrote that Peter, having seen Cornelius, a Gentile, receiving the Holy Spirit before his baptism, came to understand God’s love for us all. He said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” (Acts 10:34) The impartiality of God is proclaimed throughout the bible. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (Dt 10:17) Job also declares, that God “shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” (Job 34:19)
So how can we love beyond ourselves, our loved ones, and our Catholic family? We are called once again to rediscover His love for us. St John underscores that the call to love our Catholic Family and beyond is not something beyond our strength. “We are to love, then, because God loved us first.” Only because we have been loved by Him can we find the strength and capacity to love others as He has loved us. Only the experience of God’s love could give Jesus the impetus to fight against the temptations of life, as He did immediately after His baptism in the desert after 40 days of fasting and prayer. After such an intimate time with the Father, “Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.”
It was only with His love that St John could say with conviction, “his commandments are not difficult, because anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world – our faith.” Truly, if God loves us, we can overcome all things. In life, we all have burdens, but the burden becomes light when everything is done in love and for love. So if we find the commandments difficult it is because we lack love in what we do, even in ministry and in service. We see others as irritants that need to be gotten rid of. There is no love in our hearts. We do not see them as truly our brothers and sisters, because we do not see the face of Christ in them.
For this reason, we are invited to contemplate His incarnation during this Christmastide so that we can draw out the love of God for us as we contemplate on His generosity in emptying Himself to share our humanity. Christ has come to show us the love of His Father in His works and ministry. He has come to show us the way and to lead the way. It is our faith in God’s love for us, expressed in His incarnation and His passion that gives us victory because Christ, who is truly man, has shown us the way. In His humanity, He has conquered sin and loved us unto death. So we, too, simply have to walk His way by allowing Him to be born in us through the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism, and renewed every time when we celebrate the Eucharist or the Sacrament of reconciliation. Filled with His Spirit too, we can proclaim the Good News to the poor so that one, as the responsorial psalm says, “All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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