22nd Sunday of OT Year B:
We hear an interesting set of readings today. These readings get to the heart of something I think is very important: namely the difference between the rules and a relationship with Christ. Christianity is not simply a set of rules and regulations. Jesus does not set out for us a bunch of hoops to jump through, he wants us to follow him. He is calling us by name. He invites us to be his followers. He tells us that he will lead us to his Father. He promises to give us life eternal. Jesus did not come to simply give us a new set of rules. His criticism of the Pharisees shows that pretty well. Jesus doesn’t want us to jump through hoops, he wants to change our hearts.
But, does this mean there are no rules? No regulations? No guidelines? As you know, I just finished my degree in Canon Law and I was appointed as a judge for the diocesan tribunal. I don’t think I would be a very good canon lawyer if I just threw out all the rules and regulations. There are 1752 canons in the code of Canon law, and it is my job to uphold those laws, those rules. But, why do those rules exist? The law of the church helps to organize the outward structures of the church, it safeguards the rights of the faithful, it gives structure and coherence to the body of Christ. The law of the church is never a substitute for faith in Christ. Rather, the law presupposes a personal relationship with Christ. Without faith in Christ, the laws of the church all seem pretty silly. Law and faith, it seems to me, go hand in hand. You really cannot have one without the other. Canon law without faith is silly; faith without canon law would be anarchy and chaos.
So, I think we always need to have a good mix between structure and spontaneity, between law and faith. If it’s all one and none of the other things will go poorly. A healthy life of faith is structured, but also spontaneously moved by Christ and the Spirit. But, some people’s life of faith is nothing but rules and regulations. For these people, there is mortal sin everywhere, and they are just trying to dodge it. Here, the only reason we would go to church is to be sure we don’t end up going to hell. Of course, I certainly don’t want to go to hell. But, it seems like the life of faith is more than just the rules, just dodging sin.
But, we can go to the other extreme as well. Some people say that all that matters is their relationship with God. This extreme usually says: I’m a person of faith, but I don’t need religion. I can talk to God any time I want to, but I don’t have to go to church. I believe in God, but I don’t believe all those rules the church made up, etc. A life of faith like this has no root, no foundation, no guidance, no anchor. Without structure, human beings end up in anarchy.
So, there always has to be a good mix. If you tend to be a more rule-driven person, spend time praying to Christ as a way to build up that relationship with him. Ask him to fill your heart with the guidance of the Spirit. If you have that spiritual relationship with Christ, make sure you learn more about the implications of this relationship. Learn why the Church teaches what it does. Make sure your life of faith is structured with sound teachings. Faith without rules is anarchy, but rules without faith do not make sense either. If we are going to grow in our life of faith, we need to grow closer to Christ, but also to learn the teachings and practice of the faith.
I would like to end today by talking a little bit about a new program that we will be offering here at St. Jude. This program is called “Why Catholic?” I think this is a great program to help us to make sure we have a good balance in our life of faith. The program is designed to answer that simple question: Why are we Catholic? I know there are people out there who know the rules and regulations, but could probably grow in their relationship with Christ and with others here at the parish. Also, there are those that have that relationship with Christ, but don’t really feel like they know why the Church teaches what it does. I think all of us could grow in our understanding of theology and church teaching. So, you could go home and read the whole catechism, which might seem daunting. Or, you could participate in why Catholic? Why Catholic is based on the catechism and it explores the 4 sections of the catechism, the creed, sacraments, moral teaching, and prayer. The first section that will be covered in Why Catholic is prayer. So if you have ever wanted to learn more about prayer, this is the perfect thing for you to do. I think Why Catholic? Will be a great program to help us all grow in our faith. I will give some more information about Why Catholic at the end of Mass.
Jesus did not come to earth simply to give us a new set of rules, or hoops to jump through. He calls us to a change of heart. But, we will never be able to have that change of heart unless we listen to his voice, a voice that speaks to us through the teachings of the Church.