“Do you like it here in the Philippines?” I have been asked this question many times in my missionary experience and my honest response has always been in the affirmative. But I honestly respond with a firm negative when I ask myself, “Do I really like everything here in the Philippines?” There are surely things that l like, i.e. things that are according to my taste, and things that I sure wish were different. Who can honestly claim that he or she likes every single thing about a place or culture or country, even their own native culture? Once we can accept that we cannot like everything about a place or situation, it becomes clear to us that it is not what we like that gives meaning to our lives.
I have noticed that the moments when I have found myself dwelling on the things that I like or do not like in the places and circumstances of life, I begin to struggle with the demands of my Christian life and vocation. But the moment that I can connect with God’s love being offered at every moment to me and moving me to respond with love to God and to His people, meaning and strength returns to my life and vocation. It is not how much of what I like that gives meaning to my life and keeps me going but love i.e. God’s love for me first and my response of loving Him and His people whomever and wherever they may be.
In the Palm Sunday’s First Reading, the mysterious servant that Isaiah speaks of listens to the message of God’s love for His people: “Morning after morning, He opens my ear that I may hear.” This faithful reception of God’s loving message gives him the courage to face the things that he did not like: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” It is faithful acceptance of God’s love and a refusal to “rebel or turn back” that sustains and gives meaning to God’s servant even as he faces the derision and persecutions that he surely does not like.
Our Palm Sunday celebration shows Jesus as that servant prefigured by the Prophet Isaiah. There are certainly things that were agreeable to Jesus. He liked His table fellowship in the home of Simeon the Leper. He so much liked the generosity of the woman who anointed Him with an entire “alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard” that He did not hesitate to defend her against those who considered it a waste. He liked it when the disciples asked Him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He liked His moment with the disciples at the Last Supper.
But there were also things that were source of painful and disagreeable feelings to Him like His betrayal by Judas, His denial by Peter, His false accusation by the elders and the people, His agony in the Garden, the blows that He received, the impenitence of His persecutor, His cruel scourging, the insults He endured, His rejection by the crowd, His being stripped of His garments, His painful crucifixion, His seeming abandonment by the Father and His painful death on the Cross.
But what kept Jesus going? What gave meaning to His life and suffering? It surely was not what He liked or did not like. It was nothing but the love of His Father for Him, His own love for the Father and His love for those “whom the Father has given to Him.”(Jn17:24) In His sufferings, He did not see conversions. To the human eye, it appears that He wasted His life for nothing. But it is this love that He had for the Father and for us that transformed the most unjust act (the crucifixion of the Holy Son of God) into the most life-giving event for all humanity in human history: “Because of this, God greatly exalted Him.”
He showed the power of this love to overcome His dislikes in the Garden of Gethsemane when His soul became “sorrowful even to death.” He seemed to recoil from the coming suffering. It was not something that He liked and He surely prayed that it be taken away, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me.” But, to show us that it is love alone that sustains and gives value to what we do, He added, “But not my will, but yours be done.” Indeed, Jesus Christ “emptied Himself” in the sense that He was not attached to situations or circumstance that correspond to His inclinations and likes. In this way, He was “obedient to death,” even as He faced likeable and dislikeable things and situations.
Jesus Christ was definitely not the first to be crucified and neither was He the last. We are saved by Christ’s death and resurrection not just because He suffered but because He suffered with love for us and did so as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is His dignity as Son of God and the love that filled His heart even in His sufferings that was the source of all His merit. He communicates this same love to us too so that we are not slaves to our preferences and inclinations but, moved by the Spirit of love, we can say like St. Paul, “The love of Christ impels us.”(2Cor 5:14
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do we realize that apart from Christ, we will be “slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another.”(Tim 3:3) In other words, Jesus has delivered us from the wicked tyranny and futility of our likes, preferences, and inclinations. By sharing in the Spirit of Christ, we can indeed now be led by the same love of God that filled His own heart whether we are in agreeable or disagreeable situations of life.
On this side of eternity, we will surely like some things and dislike other things. The grace of God is not given to us to make all things likeable or agreeable to us. But, by the grace of God, even those disagreeable things, places, and people can be precious means of elevating our souls to God if we embrace them all with the same love that Jesus Christ offers to us.
Are we living our Christian lives on the level of likes? Are we obeying only the Commandments that are agreeable to our tastes? Are we believing only the portions of God’s words that are in agreement with our preferences? Are we adhering only to the Church teachings that do not challenge our tastes and inclinations? Our likes alone can neither lead us to the fullness of life nor can they sustain us. We are called to full communion with the Triune God in heaven and this path is marked loving obedience alone.
Thanks be to Jesus who has set us free to love and obey! He has also opened for us the gates of paradise closed by the disobedience of our first parents. He pours His love into our hearts in this Eucharistic celebration. If we too learn from Him to choose love over like as the principle of all that we do or endure, we shall enter into His kingdom because this love alone can sustain us to the end and give meaning to our lives.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!