21st S-unday in Ordinary Time. August 21st 2016
Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30
Disciplined by God
The department of health here in the Philippines just released a medical report that stated that there were 841 new reported cases of HIV for the month of June 2016 alone, the highest number of new reported HIV cases in any month in the country since 1984. I recalled this report a few days ago when I was in Robinson’s mall here in Antipolo. There was a huge carnival of the company, Trust condoms, giving out information and samples of their products. Large number of people, male and female, young and old, stood gleefully taking in the information and free samples of their contraceptive products. I had to wonder where shame and modesty had gone.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, why are these contraceptives not the solution to the HIV scourge or to any sexually transmitted disease?
First of all, they are against God’s plan for marriage between one man and one woman for life, a union that is faithful, exclusive and open to the gift of new life as the married couple cooperate in God’s plan for new life. It is against the plan of God for human sexuality that values the other as a gift from God, a being in God’s own image, to be revered and not to be turned into an object of one’s sexual desires.
Secondly, artificial contraceptives has never been shown to stem the tide of HIV in any place. Case in point is my native country of Nigeria. I did not know a single person with HIV when I left Nigeria in 1999. Now we cannot count the number of those who have died from this disease. Multinational companies, backed by the World Health Organization, provided easy and cheap access to all the possible artificial contraceptives in the market. My compatriots trusted these companies and their products, the companies made millions of dollars in profit and left us with nothing but death and fear of death from HIV.
Thirdly, contraceptives do not lead us to practice and grow in that much needed thing called self-discipline by which we become free and conscious masters of our passions and urges. Practice of self-discipline by the grace of God is the only solution to the epidemic. By this graced self-discipline, we develop the ability to say “Yes” to God and His loving and wise plan for us and say “No” to sin and our selfish and sinful desires that lead us to objectify others, using them as a means to an end.
The letter to the Hebrews is written to Jewish converts to Christianity who are persecuted by pagans and Jews after they chose to follow Christ. In their pain and hardship, they are reminded to submit to divine discipline, “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him. For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.” God is present with them in their trials, acting to discipline them out of His love for them and not for punishment, “Endure your trials as discipline.” God is constantly disciplining us in His love for us. When we are open to His discipline, we begin to enjoy His inner peace, that “peaceful fruit of righteousness,” we experience His strength in us as we “strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees,” and we experience His healing in our lives as “what is lame is not disjointed but healed.” Just think about what our lives and our world would look like if we had inner peace in the storms of life, strength to overcome all adversity and complete healing from the wounds of sin and human frailty. Peace, strength and healing all come to us when we are open to be disciplined by God.
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” This is Jesus inviting us to embrace a life of discipline now because without this discipline, we would not have strength to enter the kingdom of God and to remain faithful to the end, “Many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Our fervent prayers, “Lord, open the door for us,” or our pleasure of having feasted with Him, “We ate and drank in your company,” or our having listened to His words, “You taught in our streets,” will be useless without our determination to participate in that discipline of Christ by which He only did what was pleasing to the Father. Becoming undisciplined, we cannot persevere to the end in saying “Yes” to God and “No” to sin; then evil overcomes us, “Depart from me, you evildoers,” and we live in regret and pain, “There will be wailing and grinding of teeth,” when we see others less privileged than ourselves but who were open to be trained by divine discipline. It appears that there is no undisciplined soul in heaven!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not easy to enter heaven because, no matter our vocation in life, we are called to a life of constant self-discipline. We cannot enter into heaven by merely receiving gifts that God has given to us without a corresponding disciplined response to those gifts. We cannot be led by mere pleasure, public opinions, or emotions, steeped in self-indulgence, and silencing the Spirit of self-control and courage that is in us and still expect to enter into the heavenly kingdom. The gifts of our baptism that brings us into the life of faith, hope and love, the sacraments that God has lavished upon us as channels of His graces, the word of God that sheds light on our path in this dark world, the devotion to Mother Mary and the saints, the authoritative teachings that guide us as the Body of Christ, etc. all demand from us that ability to say “Yes” to God always and “No” to ourselves.
Jesus asks us to strive to enter into the Kingdom now because the door is open now. Jesus Christ has opened for us to the gate to heaven in His pierced side on the cross. By His Resurrection, He is with us even now in those difficult, demanding, and trying moments of our lives, when sin and selfishness threatens to overcome us. He always acts in those moments to bring us to share ever more deeply in His own disciplined life, to shape us and prepare us for heavenly glory.
Jesus knows our sins and our weaknesses more than we do. He knows that we are far from the discipline that is expected of us and He know the glory that awaits us. To keep our hope alive, we must remember that discipline is God’s work of love in us; we only have to cooperate with Him by His grace without given up. In His mercy, He will surely give us all the graces and virtues that we need as long as we are ready to strive to the very end with His grace against the numerous forces that tempt us to live a life focused on only what is immediately pleasurable to us or what is simply fashionable and acceptable to the world without any thought of what God wants from us.
Jesus Christ, the truly disciplined One, comes to us in our Eucharist today with a love that challenges us to grow in discipline by God’s grace. Where can our “Yes” to God be more concrete and enduring? Where can our “No” to sin and sinful desires be renewed and more fervent? The gates of the kingdom are opened to us now. They will not be open forever. Our loving Master has come to prepare us and lead us into the Kingdom as God’s disciplined children. Three gifts await us – strength for the journey, healing from our hurts and wounds, and a peace that this world cannot give or take away – if only we let God discipline us till the very end of our lives.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!