When Title Is Nothing But A Tittle

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXXI-A, 05November2017
Malachi 1:14-2:2,8-10//1Thessalonians 2:7-9,13//Matthew 23:1-12

Two Sundays ago when Jesus began confronting the Pharisees and scribes in our gospel series, I used Pepsi Cola’s ad campaign “We are made by the choices we make,” linking it with the Lord’s teaching that we must always choose to love God and others. This Sunday let us all have Sprite to recall its slogan “magpakatotoo ka!” – exactly the Gospel call to “walk your talk”.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Mt. 23:1-3)

Jesus summarizes today His lessons of what characterizes the gospel and the life lived according to it. Unlike before when He spoke using parables, He spoke in very clear terms by confronting the Pharisees and scribes of Israel – along with us to remind everyone to never hide one’s selfish motives using dazzling discourses about the commandments of God like paying taxes or which of the laws is the greatest. There is only one law above all which is to love God and to love others. And for us to truly love God and others, Jesus tells us today that we must be first of all true to our very selves as beloved children of God, followers of the Christ. Are we “nagpapakatotoo” as Christians? Are we being true in our positions and titles as servants?

We Christians are in the world but are not of the world. Jesus has always been clear in stressing this to the 12 especially during the washing of their feet on His last supper, calling on them to be like Him in serving in love and charity, never lording over on others. It is how we were designed and configured with God in Christ Jesus. Everyone and everything is under God; whatever we have especially positions and authority are from Him and merely entrusted to us to serve others especially the weak and the sick.

Unfortunately, we always forget this great honor and dignity as children of God that we get more focused with the titles and positions, forgetting the others we must serve and love. And in the process, we have forgotten God too that we even usurp His position and power! That is the meaning of the Lord’s demand to call no one as Father or Rabbi because we only have one God as Father and one Christ as Teacher. When our positions and titles are separated from God, we fail to see the human person behind all these; then, we put premiums on titles and positions because what we see are the prestige and power that come with it seeing only our bloated egos in the process.

Titles and positions have power in its very selves to be binding. And these are from God entrusted to us humans. Jesus is not against titles and positions per se. In the Church, titles and positions expressed in many forms add to the senses of beauty, awe, and holiness of liturgical celebrations when they lead to God’s glory and service to others. Titles and positions in liturgy are meant to indicate “who is who and who does what” in the glory of God and in the service of others. These are never meant to massage the egos of the clergy and laity of which the Pharisees were guilty too.

Titles come to nothing but a tittle when it is splurged onto a level of indecency like in our insistence in always affixing or mentioning them. When I was assigned in our diocesan school, I have met some parents who refused to be addressed as Mister or Miss; they would stress “I am Attorney-No-Case” or “Doctor Medicol”. How I detest watching congressional hearings where lawmakers address each other as “honorable” while insisting on everyone to accord with due respect their “august body” that is in fact a synonym for a group of baboons! On my first week as priest, I have realized so early to stop using “Father” in matters not pertaining with the Church or with my function as priest because I have found people respect me not really for who I am but for my being priest. In the office, I always insist to our secretary not to put “Rev.” on my name because I am not reverend at all! When people ask me why I do not use the title “Fr.” in my documents as if I were ashamed of my priesthood, I simply tell them that what I am ashamed of is when they take others for granted, prioritizing me than others who have waited in line to pay bills or transact business in the bank or seek medical attention at a clinic. Yes, I do wait in line. And I prefer to be always incognito, unknown and hidden than being in the limelight.

In the first reading, God is reminding us through the Prophet Malachi that we must always avoid the empty formalisms and corruption of worship through our actions that are not directed to worship the Lord but to exalt ourselves. It is not merely directed to us priests alone but to every baptized Christian who shares in the priestly ministry of Christ during our Sunday worship: “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, and if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send a curse upon you … You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”(Mal.2:2,8)

When St. Augustine was a bishop in Africa, he would always tell his congregation after Holy Communion to “become what you receive, the Body of Christ.” That is also the call of St. Paul in today’s second reading that we must conform ourselves to the person of Christ through our daily conversion. There is no need to be somebody else and aspire for many other titles and positions because “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”(Mt.23:12) A blessed long weekend in Metro Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga!

Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan3022.