28 January 2012


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 18:15-20/Ps 95/1 Cor 7:32-36/Mk 1:21-28

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried 
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the 
Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

This poem, entitled “Invictus”, is said to have inspired the first black president of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela who, like Moses, led his people unto freedom.  Thus, it is said that the same poem inspired a nation that for so long suffered from the curse of apartheid.  “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” said William Ernest Henley who wrote “Invictus”.

Some people live their lives in the victim mode: they willingly but unwittingly consign themselves to fate.  This tendency is very strong in many of us, Filipinos.  We say, “Iginuhit ng tadhana.”  “Wala tayong magagawa dahil ‘yan ang nakatadhana.”  Evidenced by the seeming addiction to soap operas or “teleserye”, many of us apparently go through life as helpless slaves of circumstances.  Some even mistake this as resiliency – said to be one of our best Filipino traits.  But people who have this wrong kind of resiliency are, in truth, losers and have no one to blame for their miserable lives but themselves only.  They are neither behind bars nor under any tyrant, but, just the same, they are not really free.

However, there are also many among us who rise above setbacks in the journey called life.  They refuse to be slaves of the circumstances of their birth, of their past, and of the misfortunes of the present.  They are not even dictated upon by a future painted for them by others.  No, they are the masters of their fates and the captains of their souls.  These people are called “survivors” and their resiliency is the true virtue.  They are the real winners in life.  More importantly, they are truly free.

With the many angles from which we may look at the readings for this 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I propose the viewpoint of our genuine freedom in Christ Jesus.  St. Paul the Apostle wrote in Gal 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  We, therefore, owe it to Christ Himself to preserve that freedom He won for us by His own blood.

The first reading today, taken from the book of Deuteronomy (which literally means, “the second law”, coming from the Greek words, nomos, meaning “law”, and deutero, “second”), brings us back to the founding days of Israel.  If the Jews thought that freedom from their Egyptian taskmasters meant no more laws to follow, they were certainly mistaken.  Freedom rather meant obedience to the law of Yahweh who, with signs and wonders, freed them from slavery in Egypt.  Thus, Yahweh, forming a people peculiarly His own, gave them instead the Ten Commandments through Moses.  The Ten Commandments, which later the book of Deuteronomy elaborates, appears to be, even until today, the very foundation of the free nation of Israel.  Without it, the Jews simply changed address – from Egypt to the Promised Land – but remained slaves of a different master nonetheless.  In the first reading today, Moses announces to the people God’s pleasure: He will raise, from among them, a prophet who will not be a fortuneteller (as many think prophets are), but, acting as God’s spokesperson, will guide them in fulfilling the Law.  Listening to God’s prophet is listening to God.  Refusing to heed the message of His prophet is disobedience, if not indifference, to God.  Either way has its own consequences: listening and obedience mean more freedom while indifference and disobedience cause enslavement in many and various ways.

Thus, with Psalm 95, with which we respond to the first reading today, we do well in reminding our selves: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”  Hearing with our ears is not yet listening.  It is with our hearts that we listen!  And for the Jews, listening is synonymous with obeying because taking to heart what is said is already the beginning of fulfilling the message conveyed.  Interestingly, the Hebrew language does not have a word of its own for “obey”.  When a Jew wants to say “obey”, he uses the word for “listen” which is shema plus a prefix le; thus, leshemoa.  For indeed, for a Hebrew, to listen is to obey.

Do I simply hear God or do I really listen to Him?  I may well ask my self, too: Who are the people I hear and who are the people I listen to?  Why?  And, one thing more: Do people hear me or do they listen to me?  Why?

In the second reading, the Apostle Paul teaches us that freedom is committing one’s self.  Thus, a person has to choose what his commitment will be: should he or she be married or unmarried, an example that the second reading uses.  Commitment presupposes our freedom but freedom is likewise enhanced by our commitment.

Commitment concentrates a person’s freedom and makes it even stronger.  It focuses his or her freedom and provides his or her life a clear and worthwhile orientation.  Without commitment, freedom is like water that has no shape of its own.  The fear to commit one’s self renders one’s freedom useless and even chaotic.  Those who think that they are more free by remaining single, for example, are actually misled by a childish, if not totally naïve, understanding of freedom as not being committed to a spouse.  Celibates, for that matter, are free not because they are unmarried but because they exercise their freedom in committing themselves to a life of total availability to the cause of God’s kingdom.  Be what it may – married or unmarried – St. Paul admonishes us to use our freedom in making our commitment so that our commitment may make us truly free.  In fact, he begins his letter by saying that he should like us to be free from anxieties.

Am I afraid to commit my self?  To whom?  To what?  Why?  Using my freedom, how is my commitment?

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus encounters a man who, instead of possessing himself, is possessed by an unclean spirit.  Clearly, that man is not the master of his fate neither is he the captain of his soul.  He is not free.  But Jesus frees him by simply commanding the unclean spirit to be quiet and to come out of him.  Then the story shifts its focus from the man once possessed by an unclean spirit to those who now are possessed by Jesus.  The people are not only astonished at the power of His teaching, they are also amazed at its authority because even unclean spirits obey Him.  As a result, Jesus becomes more famous.  Fanatics, not necessarily disciples, track Him everywhere He goes.  But Jesus wants disciples, not fanatics.  He desires obedience, not platitudes; obedience that, as we realized earlier, separates the hearers from the listeners of the Word of God.  The amazement of the people in the Gospel today will fade and turn to hatred, with their cheers becoming jeers of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

What interests me further though is the once possessed man now healed.  What happens to him?  After his freedom from the unclean spirit, where goes and what does he?  Will he use his newfound freedom to commit himself to Jesus?  Or will he fall a prisoner to another unclean or even worse spirit only?  For what will he use his new freedom?  Will he finally be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul?  Unfortunately, he is not mentioned again in any part of the Gospel.

Perhaps, that man in the Gospel may very well stand for me.  And the answers to my questions can be read in the strokes that my life makes in the world.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.  I place my fate in the hands of Jesus.  He is the captain of my soul.

How about you?


At 3:06 PM , Anonymous Maldives Hotels said...

The Fate comes from God


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