A few months back, I found some free time to watch a PBS series on the Prohibition era. It was well done and covered many important aspects that motivated the temperance movement and initiated the legislation of prohibitive measures on alcohol and hard liquors. We have to admit that it was a heartfelt and justified response to the contemporaneous social problem of drunkness, especially its detrimental effects felt in the homes. Yet, when society begins to legislate something moral without people truly understanding and personalizing the matter, it became meaningless and created so many underground resistances and covert lifestyles. As a matter of fact, the alcohol consumption level was higher during the Prohibition era than the times before it. Bars that used to frequented only by men were replaced with speakeasy venues that began to create many opportunities for men and women to mingle and go easy on each other with the help of alcohol. It made many petty thieves and criminals into powerful crime bosses who took advantage of the demands to secure power.
It is, therefore, important to remember that human or social law cannot change hearts. The letters of the law only imply and expect compliance by putting into words the how and what — technicalities — of certain legalistic perimeters. If the law of the land is not connected with the people, it will inevitably invite and creates law-breakers. The producers’ closing comment for the PBS series on Prohibition is important to remember that the law is not capable to not solve the innate, human, or social problem: “Prohibition did cut alcohol consumption for a time, but alcoholism, the disease that had inspired it, has never gone away. It destroyed lives in 1820 and 1920, and it destroys them still. No government anywhere has found a way to prevent it.”
The closing comment highlights and soberly reminds us that people will always find ways to break the law when it creates inconveniences to their lives, especially when they do not see or recognize the problem to be problematic. Especially nowadays with the power of social media and technology, it is easier to become vocal and use influential power to change the law to fit our agenda-driven or popular lifestyle. However, if people cannot understand the reason why the law is important and its purpose to serve or protect, it will never abide in people’s hearts or applicable to their lives.
Nevertheless, the law of the Lord is not simply some set of legalistic definitions and jargon that does not make sense or simply to exist to make our lives miserable. The law of the Lord was given for our good and out of love! It was given in and for the purpose of our covenant with Him. This covenant was not just some casual or social exchange, it was sealed by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who chose to die for us while we were still sinners and did not love Him. The Almighty always holds His end of the covenant and desires our collaboration out of love as well. The law of the Lord is personal and based on love because it was not lobbied, written, and ratified by politicians with side interests. It was written for us as the sign of mutual, self-giving love between the Creator and His creation, between heaven and earth.
Yet, to love is hard because love has its own particular rules and demands. That is why the law of the Lord is hard to keep at times, especially when we like to follow our own likings or personal agendas because it reminds us of what it truly means and takes to love. The law of the Lord is also demanding at times, too, because the truth is hard to accept when our personal wantings tempt us to look away from what it takes to love as to seek lesser or immediate goods. It is hard to walk the straight and narrow, especially when temptations are all around us; nevertheless, it is important to remember that His law is holistic, personal, and real as it permeates every part of our lives. God is not there to sit around, watch and catch us, as to punish us according to our sins alone. If He truly wants to punish us according to true justice, none of us would survive His just punishment! Nonetheless, divine justice and truth go hand in hand with mercy and compassion because we are weak human beings who fail at times, even with our best intentions.
Therefore, it is important that we discern and seek the works of the Lord with time and truth in our everyday journey and interactions. We have to learn to see all things by looking at the fruits and right intentions that they bear: not simply to divide but to build up, not just to cut down but to nourish, not of self-pity and its pettiness but of self-giving, not of self-righteousness but loving truth and mercy. Even though it is hard at times, we can prayerfully judge all intentions by aligning them with the Gospel and our Savior‘s life and actions. No matter how righteous one might sound, if the idea or action is petty and full of self-righteousness as to nitpick and divide, or to simply affirm one’s or a small group’s ego or agenda, they do not come from God. If we think that we speak the truth, but without charity, they are not of Him!
If a person or group is petty in pointing out only the mistakes and wrongdoings without helping those around them be lifted up with compassion and mercy, willingly desire to work together and make sacrifices as to accompany the weak, forgotten, abandoned, and the least of our brethren, the person or ideology is not of God but only of human origin, oftentimes only using the divine name for its goal or agenda. It is important to remember that words have to be in line with actions! If we think we speak the “truth,” but our actions are otherwise, we are simply hypocritical and untrue to ourselves in front of God who knows our hearts. If we speak a lot but our actions are contrary to what we profess in truth, the words of God are not with us, only our ego and its self-serving way to get what it wants with His words.
Our devotion to Divine Mercy reminds us that God loves us so much! The Father willingly handed His only begotten Son over to death for us. Jesus willingly emptied Himself — to live like us in all things but sin — suffered and died as expiation for our sins. The Holy Spirit is at work in each and every one of us to bring to fulfillment the works of creation and redemption so we can know what it means to be loved by the Triune God. Even though we will be like St. Thomas who will doubt and question His divine presence, His love, and what He has done for us, even at times when He is right in front of us, the Lord in His infinite mercy and wisdom will affirm us in our weaknesses and doubts if we humbly trust in Him. As a matter of fact, His love for us is so real and tangible, because we can see and feel it every time we receive the Eucharist! Therefore, even in our frailties and unbeliefs, let us remember to turn to Him and call out with all our hearts for His mercy, just like St. Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (cf. John 20:19-31) In a similar way, we can also call out to the Savior, just like what St. Faustina taught us through the Divine Mercy devotion, “Jesus, I trust in you!” And in my humble opinion, I think we can add, “Help me in my unbelief!” to that as well.
When we are full of His presence and personally living in His truth, we will be able to bring healing and transformation to those whom we come into contact in our lives. Why? Because it is no longer we who live for ourselves or our own self-righteousness, but it is He who is living in us! We will be able to bring healing and transformation like the Apostles because the Lord is living in and working through us, not just with our own abilities or limitations. Without Him, we will bring division and be stuck in our own pettiness. Full of His loving mercy and divine presence, we will be able to speak the truth in charity, especially to personally share the transformative power of the Gospel that liberates the captives of this world with divine justice and heals those who are stricken with its lies with divine mercy. Therefore, let us taste the sweetness of His love and mercy as well to share them with our very own lives and actions.