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I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…

I wish things are black and white and nothing in between. I wish religion is played by the rules of Football: rigid, legalistic, unyielding and never subtle. If you’re afraid to get tackled, then don’t even dare sign up. I’d love to echo the words of the business mogul, You’re fired! I wish rules are non-negotiable. For instance, if someone doesn’t fit by the standards of Canon Law and the Guidelines set by the Episcopal Conference, the Diocese and Parish, I can easily say, I’m sorry I cannot help you. I don’t make rules. If there’ no such thing as pastoral consideration, I would have no trouble dealing with  some Catholics (not in St. James) who love to bargain, push their best interest and justify everything to advance their agenda. By then, to tweet or not to tweet isn’t even a question.

However, life issues are tough, complex and complicated. There’s a lot of iffy’s. Let’s make “the Sunday obligation” an example. Did I fulfill my obligation if I arrived after the homily? If you were late because of work, that’s a saving factor but if it’s due to just watching TV, that’s a different story. Attending Mass isn’t the same as going to the movies where you can catch the other half on the next roll. It’s a ritual and has to be followed from the start to the very end. Also, does it make a father of five, who had to work three jobs, almost round the clock to put food on the table, less Catholic, if he consistently missed Sunday Mass? Are we obliged to hand out a nickel to street beggars even down to the last dollar? or does it depend on the individual’s discretion? Is living together as roommates, best friends, or better yet, brothers and sisters, for as long as there’s no sex involved, morally permissible? Don’t go beyond the fine line. These tough issues faced in our Church are the causes of the fiercest religious battles that continue to stir debate, sometimes divide God’s people, Catholics in particular, at least in approach and style and not in substance.

Jesus’ words, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5: 17) is one of the most disturbing statements that in fact, put him in trouble with the entire Religious tradition for doing things contrary to the law. That’s why, no surprise, it cost him is life. He was eventually condemned and crucified. Once and for all, he did not intend to violate the Mosaic law or abolish and/or change any letter of it or launch a revolution to repeal the sacred writings or even to separate from the tradition. He simply tried to put things in proper perspective. What he demonstrated was the very purpose and meaning from which the law was based, that is, respect and love, at a time when obedience to the law was everything. He had a point. Yet, for many, he was a law-breaker and a betrayer of his own people by healing the sick on the Sabbath, an act absolutely forbidden on a day no work must be done, not even pushing a button, not even calling 911 when your wife is about to give birth, an exaggeration. Make no mistake, the Scribes and the Pharisees were one of the most amazing and wonderful people ever to have walked on earth.

By refusing to observe the ritual hand washing, Jesus wasn’t saying that keeping the torah (the Law and the Prophets) were wrong and unnecessary. He was simply straightening things up, thinking outside of the  box and leading people into what matters most. Yet, he also went to the extremes, that is, beyond the prescribed prohibition by laying down that whoever is angry is liable to judgment or anyone lusting over a woman commits adultery, among others. He seemed to represent both ends of the religious spectrum and yet, the message was clearly divine.

To end, for Jesus, we have gone far as to paying much attention to the details but missed the point that is, the law of love that needs no rest. Amen.

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A Filipino Catholic Priest, born and raised in Virac, Catanduanes, Philippines, ordained for the Diocese of Tucson, AZ, eleven years in ministry and counting, currently assigned as Pastor of St. Christopher Catholic Parish, Marana, AZ.

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