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Pledge of commitment

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ONE OF the things that got very deeply embedded in my consciousness as a Filipino was the “Panatang Makabayan.” Maybe because we were made to recite it every day in school after singing the Lupang Hinirang, our national anthem. But I must say whoever composed it must have drawn a lot of inspiration from the Christian faith. Before I explain why, let us first recall the words of the PANATA, which means not just a promise but a vow or even better, a pledge of commitment. Here is my English translation of it:

A PLEDGE OF COMMITMENT TO MY COUNTRY

I love the Philippines.
This is the nation in which I was born.
This is the home of my race.
She has nurtured me and cared for me
and helped me grow into a strong, happy, and functional human being.

In return, I will heed the counsels of my parents.
I
will follow the rules of my school.
I will fulfill the duties of a nation-loving citizen
who abides by the law.
I will serve my country without hesitation
and with faithfulness.
I will always strive to become
a true Filipino in thought, word and deed.

It begins with LOVE of country as an act of reciprocation to what my country does for me. Only after the articulation of this patriotic love do the rules and regulations follow. The adherence to law is founded on a relationship.

Why am I saying that this pledge of commitment must have drawn a lot of inspiration from the Christian faith? Because it is exactly the same thing that we are hearing in today’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He says it a second time but inverts it, “Whoever keeps my commandments is the one who loves me.” Meaning, a faith that is not motivated by love is weak. It is nothing but adherence to rules and regulations. It is possible to follow a set of laws because you are merely afraid of getting caught by the law enforcers in case you violate the law. If that is all that motivates a person to follow the law, what happens when the law enforcers are not around? In English there is a saying, “When the cat is away, the mouse will play.” The mouse is well-behaved only while the cat is around.

This all true if most of us still behave like mice and not as responsible human beings and citizens of our country. It means we have not really internalized the spirit of the law yet, and that is what the Panata is about.

It was basically the same with the Jewish faith, which some of their leaders, like the Scribes and the Pharisees, had reduced to a set of laws or multiplied into mere human precepts. Jesus was precisely reacting to this tendency, which, for him, was not in keeping with their faith as an Israelite people. Yes, they had the Ten Commandments, but the commandments were founded on a relationship, which they called a COVENANT. They were never to be seen as just a set of rules and regulations imposed on them. They followed them because they were committed to their God who loves them, and who invites them to a special covenantal relationship with him.

This is the reason why I often say I prefer to refer to the Ten Commandments as “Ten Commitments. In Tagalog, “Sampung Kasunduan” rather than “Sampung Kautusan. The Commandments are meaningful only in the context of the commitment to a covenant relationship with God. That relationship has to be free. It is meaningless if it is merely imposed.

Remember the Israelites were slaves. Before God invited them to a covenant relationship, he first liberated them. There can be no real covenant between master and slave. It will be founded, not on love but on fear. Therefore, Jesus reinvents the relationship by saying, “I no longer call you slaves because the slave does not know what the master is doing. Instead, I call you friends.” (John 15:15) He is not inventing these ideas; he is drawing them from his own Jewish faith.

Faith motivated by fear is possible, but it is not just weak, it is meaningless. Sadly, this is the case for some Christian believers: they adhere to religious obligations but are still motivated by fear of punishment or hell fire. This is the very idea that is beautifully expressed by John in his first epistle, in chapter 4, where he says, in v. 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” Then, in v. 19 he says, “We love because he first loved us.” Meaning, our love for God is merely our response to God’s love for us. By the way, that response is what Pope Benedict calls FAITH. It is in the context of LOVE. And remember what John has just said: “There is no fear in love…love casts away all fear.”

Let me end with this thought. A few days ago, I called your attention to what Paul says about the three virtues which he considers the greater gifts of the Spirit: FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE. Would you remember which of the three he considered as the greatest? Not faith. In fact, he rubs it in when he says, “Even if I have faith that can move mountains, if I have no love, I am nothing.” Remove love, faith becomes a mere compliance motivated by fear. Remove love, hope is not even possible. If faith is about allowing God’s love to give light to your path as you pass through this world, hope is about allowing the same love to keep you going, even when the way gets dark and difficult, when you reach what seem like dead ends, when you are tempted to despair, to fall apart and break into pieces. It is what makes you stubbornly believe in happy endings and say, “IF IT IS NOT HAPPY, THEN IT’S NOT YET THE END.”

(Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17 May 2020from John 14:15-21)

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