This Sunday’s Gospel delivers a very clear message. In boxing, it is a knock-out punch. In baseball, it’s a home run; in tennis, an ace; in football, a goal; in basketball, a four-point play.
To the question of the pharisees and scribes, Christ has a clear, deliberate answer. He calls them hypocrites, and defines hypocrisy using the prophecy of Isaiah.
The word “hypocrite” has an interesting etymology. Its early meaning refers to an actor engaged in a dialogue, or one who converses according to a script.
It has come to mean a person devoid of sincerity not just in what he says, but also in what he does. Simply put, it is someone who lives his/her life without sincerity or integrity.
Christ’s critique is about how the pharisees and scribes have replaced with human precepts God’s commandments. He says that nothing from without can defile a person, what is within is what defiles a person.
One of the things I distinctly remember from our Old Testament class was how our professor emphasized that all the laws and commandments in the Old Testament were based on one covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” This Old Covenant was replaced in Christ when God became “Our Father,” and we became his sons and daughters.
We realize how this covenant is very much relational in nature. As we move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, it becomes even more personal.
This personalization of the covenant is centered on Christ. He is the New Covenant. Thus, it is no surprise that Christ reacts strongly to how the pharisees and scribes have distorted the nature of the covenant by replacing with human precepts the commandments of God. It is trivializing the core of religion and spirituality, our personal relationship with God.
Take this deeper, and we realize that our sonship/daughterhood is patterned after Christ, which is, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” It is patterned after the Cross and the Resurrection. It is a relationship of unconditional love.
Who we are is defined by our being beloved sons and daughters of one Father, God. This lies in our innermost being, in our core. This is the integrity of our person.
This leads us to a better understanding of what Christ means when he says only what comes from within can defile a person. No one can defile our integrity except our own free choice.
Integrity is our core that cannot be divided because its bedrock is free choice—our free choice.
I have shared with you a few weeks back how I have recently gone into a downswing in my life. I felt betrayed by some events the past months and, as what most traumas in life do to us, such an experience brought back unhealed past betrayals.
I have to admit that this recent betrayal led to the path of healing, to seek my wholeness again; to re-connect with my integrity, the core of my sonship, my being a beloved son of the Father. It was going back to who I am and what my mission is—or why I am.
I told myself, “Stick to being a teacher!” This was an identity and mission I discovered 32 years ago. I fell in love with it. It healed me. It inspired me. It made me take the journey I have taken—by choice, by free choice—over 32 years ago.
In 1980, I sat in my classroom, the room of my 4-E of the Ateneo de Manila High School Class of 1981. If I am not mistaken, it was right beside the restroom on the then fourth year wing.
In the solitude of the classroom of 40-plus students, there we sat, myself and one of my students, while the rest of the class was either on their recess or lunch break or had gone home. There we sat, the two of us, united by a shared pain.
On that first year of teaching, in meeting the first of five or so students from that class who had come from a broken family like me, I started my journey back to my hidden wholeness and slowly, through the years, discovered or rediscovered my integrity.
It came at the moment when he broke down and cried. He had chosen to let out years of pain resulting from a broken family. I sat there, simply being present to him.
I wanted to cry with him, but the best I could do was to tap him on the shoulder and say, “Ilabas mo lang (Just let it out). I know how it feels.”
Then we shared the silence and, perhaps unknown to the young man, the tears.
It was in such a moment that I realized and chose to dedicate the rest of my life to teaching. Or, in the words of Fr. Frank Reilly, SJ, to “help the youth of the high school discover Christ in their life.”
In the words and thoughts of many writers, it was a moment of BEING. I chose freely to be a teacher at the moment of grace because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. It was his way of telling me that this was how I was to be His beloved son.
Since then, the past 32 years have been filled with blessings. But life is not a once-and-for-all moment of grace, because we are human.
As my colleague and co-ex-J (a pun on SJ, that is, ex-Jesuit) would say, we enter this life as human beings, as ESSENCE, but along the way we become human DOINGS by developing personalities. At a certain point, the moment of grace makes us realize we have to go back and become human BEINGS again, to reintegrate.
But it is not simple to reintegrate. Despite moments of grace when we catch a glimpse of the mission God sends us into the world for, that point where “your deep gladness and a deep hunger of the world” meet, we continue to falter.
As many spiritual writers say, our spiritual journey is a spiral process. We touch on the same issues over and over, but each time we do, it makes us go deeper, makes us more whole. We reintegrate more. We become freer and make choices with greater freedom.
In my last downturn, I realized I had no one else to blame for my woes except myself. The choices I made that were not marked by freedom led me to mistakes and suffering. It may not seem to be bad and sinful on the surface, but the lack of freedom will always deter free choice.
There is only once choice that is free—to choose to be a beloved son/daughter of the Father; to choose to live out with great love and a great soul the mission God has for me. For me, it is to be a teacher; to help others discover Christ in their life.
I look back and realize, because I finally admitted it without any excuses or rationalizing, that I always get into trouble and mess up when I become unfaithful to God’s mission for me. I become a hypocrite when I play other roles not true to my being a beloved son, not true to my being a teacher and not helping others discover Christ in their life.
As Shakespeare said, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
There is nothing from without that can defile us. It is only what comes from within that defiles.
This is how great the freedom God has given us. It is our ability to choose with freedom that gives us our integrity. When we choose not to be faithful to our true self, we become hypocrites like the pharisees and the scribes.
I catch a glimpse of a young man talking to another young man in the solitude of a classroom. The young man breaks down and cries, expressing the suffering and pain of a 32-year journey. The other young man taps him on the shoulder and in silence communicates, “Ilabas mo lang. I know how it feels.”
He has always been with me—faithful; lovingly, providentially present always.
I have rediscovered Christ in my life after 32 years of first hearing I am a beloved son.