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February 13, 2017
[St. John the Apostle & Evangelist Church, Mililani (Convalidation of Marriages)
St. Stephen Diocesan Center Chapel, Kaneohe (Institution of Acolytes)]
Some time ago I read the true story of a man who went to see his rabbi. The man had been married for close to 25 years, but he found himself miserable in the marriage and had decided he simply could not tolerate it any more. He was conflicted, however, because his faith, like ours, does not condone divorce. So he wanted to talk to the rabbi to see if there was a way he could better reconcile his religious beliefs with his decision to end his marriage. The rabbi listened attentively to the man's story and seemed very sympathetic. In the end, the rabbi said to him, "I am going to ask you to do one thing, for one month only. During this next month, whatever your wife wants you to do, go along with it. Whatever she says, accept it. I know it will be very difficult, but will you try this? Then a month from now you can come back and we will talk about your divorce." The man respected the rabbi, so he followed his advice. A month later he went to see the rabbi, and the rabbi asked if he was still set on asking for the divorce. The man replied, "No! In fact, my wife and I have felt closer to each other than we ever had before. It is like we are on a second honeymoon." The rabbi reflected with him that his change of attitude and perspective was what changed the situation. He was no longer thinking just of himself and defending any perceived threat to his rights and desires, but he put his wife first. By doing this, he himself was much happier and their marriage was much stronger.
We can all put ourselves in this man's place when it comes to following the law of God. God does not force us to follow his ways. As the first reading from Sirach makes clear, that before us are "fire and water," ... "life and death, good and evil." Whichever one we choose will be given to us. So really it is we who choose heaven or hell, joy or misery. And it all has to do with our attitude. And as Jesus points out, this attitude has more depth than simply following God's law. It means understanding the heart of God, contemplating the love he has for us that gives us laws that will lead to our freedom and our welfare, not to our misery and woe. But, we might object, it is not always true that we create our own misery. Sometimes life hands us some very difficult realities we would not choose for ourselves. Who chooses to have cancer or to lose a loved one in death? When a company downsizes and has to lay off even its most loyal and productive employees, you may suffer from being out of work, but it is not a situation you created. Here we are called to be led where we cannot go except by the light of the Spirit, who scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Here we turn to our crucified Savior who did nothing wrong, who made only good and positive choices, yet who was cruelly criticized, punished, and put to death. But what was his attitude? Obedience to God's will. No matter what he was handed, he said "Yes" to his heavenly Father, and because of that he overcame death, just as the man who spoke to the rabbi found that listening to his wife was the most life-giving course for both of them.
Perhaps you have read my letter on physician assisted suicide. God gave us a simple law: You shall not kill. This applies equally to everyone, whether yourself, others, or the unborn. We can certainly choose to ignore this law. God gives us the freedom to do so. But to do so is to invite our own condemnation. To say nothing while our legislators allow the law of the land to contradict the law of God is to jeopardize everyone, because whenever we put our own laws before the law of God, we are the losers. We will then live in a world where there is little trust, less and less compassion for those who are suffering, and more and more of a desire to simply dispose of them. It is a slippery slope to take God's law into our own hands and to amend or change it.
Jesus sets high standards for us in not just observing the letter of the law, which he certainly did not come to abolish but to fulfill. They may seem impossible to achieve, just as the married gentleman thought happiness was impossible to achieve in his marriage. But with the help of God, the guidance of the Spirit, which scrutinizes all things, and dedication to "just do whatever God tells us to do" we will find incredible joy -- not necessarily without trials and crosses -- but a joy that no one can take from us.