This Sunday, I invite you to reflect on the law of God as one major theme that runs through today’s readings. In our faith tradition, the law is framed within our relationship with God, our covenant with God.
In the Old Testament, this covenant was defined as, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” From this covenant, this one fundamental “law” grew all the other laws, the commandments, precepts and regulations that soon made for a convoluted relationship.
In the New Testament, the New Covenant was established in Christ. Our relationship with God was radically transformed and reoriented in Christ; in Christ we are sons and daughters of the Father; as followers of Christ we are the Father’s beloved sons and daughters.
Christ sets the gold standard, the mother of all laws, in these commandments: “Love one another as I have loved you”; “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole soul, your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Nature of law
There are two points on the nature of law for our reflection. One, the law as an expression of the core values not just of a person, but of the community. Two, the law as the source of the formation of the community.
The core values of a community are intrinsically related to its vision and mission, or what we can refer to as the founding inspiration of a community. A community—be it a family, organization, church, corporation—comes to life because of an inspiration. The vision invites people and the mission attracts or inspires people to embrace this founding inspiration of a community, and thus become part of the community.
A family, for example, is formed by husband and wife choosing to commit to each other in love and fidelity. There is always a unique story to the love of a couple replete with graces and core values. It is not generic and, in so far as the couple remains faithful to these graces and core values, their community grows and flourishes.
The children born into the family are the fruits of the love of the husband and wife. They are formed and nurtured in the graces and core values of the family. The children become part of the family as they consciously choose and embrace these graces and core values.
Quite often we go into auto-pilot as we become part of a community, especially a family; we assume things are as they are and work as they do because that’s how it has always been.
We often lose the connection to the “why”—the founding inspiration, the grace and the core values, the vision and mission—of our communities and simply function and live on the level of the “what” and the “how” of things.
This is why the law, in the sense of what Christ is referring to in the Gospel, is liberating in its definition—what is often referred to as identity and mission, or who we are and why we are here.
This explains why Pope Francis has become an inspiration to many. He has brought the community of the church back to its core identity and mission. He is reconnecting the community to its original inspiration, the love and compassion of Christ making a difference in the day-to-day life of ordinary people.
The second nature of the law as the source of the community’s formation is very much related to the first. A community is formed around a vision; and when people embrace and commit themselves to this vision, they become members of the community.
‘The passion to be’
For the early church, it was around the vision of the Risen Lord: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. It is the mystery of our faith, the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, which became the compelling vision that inspired the formation of the early church.
Membership in such a community is life-giving rather than constricting.
Recently I was interviewing a former student of Ateneo de Manila high school who did very well in his field. He is one of the giants, so to speak, in his industry. It took him many years to get to the top—long years of hard work, working his way up from the ranks.
With success in his craft, he was able to do other things close to his heart. He champions many advocacies and is a recognized leader in these areas.
I asked him what inspired him and made him persevere through the many years of hard work before hitting it big.
I was humbled when he responded, “You remember, Father, what our motto was when we were (high school) seniors? ‘The passion to be,’ that was what always motivated me. It was my inspiration to keep on going.”
“The passion to be,” was the expression of young men back in 1997-1998 of what it means to be a student in a Jesuit or Ignatian-inspired school. We endeavored to reconnect the school to its original inspiration.
We emphasized that studying in Ateneo did not mean anything, but what defined us and gave us the distinct charism is that we are a Jesuit or an Ignatian-inspired school.
It is gratifying and humbling to hear it from a student over 15 years later that our effort to reconnect the community to its original inspiration, its core values, vision and mission made a difference in the life of a person. And more so knowing that this person has impacted the lives of many more.
As I drove home from that interview, I recalled the original call and inspiration that helped me embrace my identity and mission as a teacher almost 35 years earlier: “Help the youth of the high school discover Christ in their life.”
It inspired me to embrace this mission as a teacher because I experienced in my own life that it is discovering Christ in my life that matters most. It is discovering the basic law of life: “I will be your God and you will be my people”; “You are my beloved sons and daughters and I will be your loving Father.”