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God’s way

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I WONDER if you have ever asked yourselves why Frank Sinatra’s famous song MY WAY has caused a lot of violence in the Philippines? You can check it out in the internet. Just type “brawls or fights over song MY WAY in the Philippines.” You’ll be surprised how many deaths it has caused already. The common settings are karaoke or videoke sessions in bars and at home, where people engage in alcohol binge. I checked out the lyrics of the song and found something interesting. Its final lines say,

“For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way…Yes, it was my way.”

What’s wrong about doing it your way anyway? I think today’s Gospel can enlighten us somehow about this issue. Could it be that what we often call MY WAY, very often, is not really ours but Satan’s way? This is what Jesus seems to be suggesting in his remark to Peter when Peter blocked his way to Jerusalem and said, “God forbid Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you”.

At the outset, one can say Peter was just expressing concern about the welfare of Jesus. In fact, he was just protecting him from harm, or so it seems. But that happens to be the favorite trick of Satan: to lead us away from fulfilling our mission or life’s purpose by getting us to prioritize self-fulfillment and self-preservation, avoidance of pain above everything else. It’s what Satan is really good at. He would rather play on our self-oriented instincts.

Remember the temptation story of Matthew, which is the usual reading for the first Sunday of Lent? Satan’s way is always directed at EGO-massage. His favorite lines are, “Don’t you know who you are? You are the Son of God! You can make short-cuts. You can turn stones into bread. You can own the world. You can be reckless and not be harmed. Why would you allow suffering and deprivation to happen to you? Whatever happened to your privileges and prerogatives? You have a right to claim your entitlements. Before you love anybody else, you must LOVE YOURSELF.”

Satan has a way of making all of that sound perfectly reasonable. But you end up not being able to love anybody else. Satan is most skillful in getting people to just do things their own way than accommodate each other, or make space for anybody else. The core message is I DON’T CARE. Satan’s Way is focused on the self, on doing things MY WAY, and really make it sound legitimate.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “You are thinking, not as God does but as human beings do.” In my younger years, I used to react to this remark of Jesus to Peter. I used to feel like answering Jesus and saying, “Come on Lord, Get real! I am just a human being; I am not God like you, so how else do you expect me to think if not like a human being?”

Our common problem with the way of Jesus is that he has a high standard on being human. After all, we are supposed to be created in God’s image and likeness, and we are called to be children of God. Can we reallythink as God does? Can it really happen that what we think are our own human thoughts are actually Satan’s thoughts?

I learned this from St. Ignatius of Loyola in his spiritual exercises. It is part of the discipline of DISCERNMENT. Ignatius says there are three kinds of thoughts that come to our mind: one, those that are really ours; two, those that come from God; and three, those that come from the evil one. Sometimes you don’t realize that what you insist as your way is actually Satan’s way.

Jesus would rather do it “God’s way.” And so, he said at the Garden of Gethsemane when he came to terms with his mission in Jerusalem, “Not my will but yours be done.” Jesus spoke about “God’s way” many times. It does not sound attractive, of course, because it seems to focus too much on suffering and dying. We heard him in today’s Gospel: “The Son of man must suffer greatly, be rejected and put to death.” He was mentoring his disciples to a different path, the road less traveled, the Way of the Cross. Let’s try to understand what God’s way is really about.

God’s way is the way of resistance to evil but in a nonviolent way. It is to have the courage to speak out even when told to be silent, especially when the speaking out can give strength to the weary. It is the way of peace, more disposed to suffer violence than to inflict violence on others. God’s way is the way of humility. It is about the emptying of self as the only path to exaltation. The way of servanthood instead of lording it over.

Above all, God’s way is the Way of Love, the readiness to rise above oneself, one’s self-interest or self-preservation, in order to achieve a higher and a greater version of oneself. It is sometimes called the path of self-transcendence, the path of total self-giving that makes one ready for the consequences.

Perhaps if Jesus were to reword Frank Sinatra’s song, it would go this way:

“For what is a man, what has he got?

If not God’s Love then he has naught

To say the things God truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it God’s way…Yes, it was God’s way.”

(Homily for 30 August 2020, 22nd Sunday in OT, Mat 16:21-27)

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