faith motivated by love, not fear

During this past Holy Week, in the midst of a faith sharing, a friend admitted her life long struggles with Good Friday. This opened a flood-gate of sharing among us. I, too, hated Good Friday as a child. I hated it even more as a Mother, trying to explain to wee children the morose devotions. Trying to protect their innocent minds from the horrors of the Passion story.

I remembered, and shared with my friends, an article that Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ wrote for NCR last year titled How to cope with Holy Week when you are less than inspired.  In it, Fr. Reese describes his own struggles with the theology of Good Friday. Struggles that many readers related to,

There is another reason I hate Holy Week, especially Good Friday. When I was a child, we were taught that Jesus had to die for our sins because sin is an infinite insult to God that requires an infinite sacrifice as reparation.

I am sorry, but I don’t think I have ever done anything so bad that it requires me or anyone else to be crucified, let alone Jesus. While I might be grateful to Jesus for taking the blame for my sins, this theology turned God the Father into a legalistic ogre concerned about balancing the scales of justice, not mercy. The Father in this theology sounds nothing like the Father described by Jesus. Alas, some of the liturgical prayers still reflect this theology.

This year, Robert Mickens wrote a piece for NCR called The Greatest story never told.  He described how Benedict XVI, both as pope and emeritus, saw the lack of belief in the need for salvation as a major crisis in the church. Mickens quotes Benedict,

“The obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals…If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated,” he noted.

In other words, Benedict believes that when obligation and the fear of hell stopped being the motivating force for Catholics, the pews began to empty. Mickens, rightly I think, questions the good of a fear-centred faith,

But one could argue that a religion based on fear has little to do with having faith in and striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I remember too well the scrupulous faith of my childhood. The fear of sin. The even greater fear of confession. The terrifying fear of the fires of hell. I consider myself blessed that I was slowly rid of the guilt and fears, and I have little or no patience for those who try to reinstill them in me.

I believe in a God of love. Just, yes. But loving first. Loving always. God calls each one of us us to live this life of love; a life of goodness, justice and right action. God’s son, Jesus, shows us the way…and it’s a simple one.

The gospel is not a compendium of rules and regulations, but an exohortation to love God and each other in word and deed. As we have received grace freely, so are we to be bearers of grace for others.

Fear or obligation are seldom good motivators for love.

7 thoughts on “faith motivated by love, not fear

  1. Amen & thank you.
    God’s wanting communion and reconciliation, EVERYWHERE and ALWAYS, seems to be the only starting point for any God thinking…
    That and the fact that, whether we accept it or not, there is in every one of us an overpowering desire to be loved and to love…
    Everything else follows…

  2. There is an article in the current edition of National Catholic Reporter on “the Stations of the Resurrection”. It’s about time.
    There is such an emphasis on the suffering of Jesus as the basis of our salvation that it virtually amounts to doctrine. It’ was bad enough that our bigotry spoke of “the Jews killed Jesus” but, selfishly, “I” killed Jesus by my sins and sinfullness. I am with Fr. Reese on this one. I have done some awful things but nothing that merits the torture and slow agonizing execution of Jesus.
    We must suffer with Christ, the Mass is virtually identified with the crucifixion. Despicably worded we “celebrate the crucifixion and death”. Imagine.
    Been thinking about this over Easter. Any spiritually (intellectually), and emotionally healthy person merges their grief at a death with the reality of living. Even a painful death. It’s called “healing”. That is what Jesus intended.
    My Chrisitianity is a great big “what if” that did: the person who suffered and died “came back” better than ever, “in glory”. Of course I will never forget what happened but first of all, it is history. Remember, acknowledge but don’t just move on, rejoice and be glad. Secondly, He, as a human, was born to die. There are scriptural lessons in the “Passion” but the essence is that we are united with Jesus in life and living.
    Pope Benedict’s greatest gift was to reword in contemporary terms so much of the Catholicism of the Church that led to the Reformation so that we can see it, understand,disgard and seek something that is redeemed-human.

  3. At nearly seventy-five years old I have seen so many of the things that the Church taught me in a new light. The teachings were fear and guilt based and put the Church, rather than me, as the arbiter of my relationship and understanding of God.
    Fortunately, from time to time, some person I respected tried to downplay the authoritarian ways of the Church and show, by example, God’s loving ways.
    My question is why should I give ascent to an Institutional Church that has so distorted what God can be for us?
    When I say, “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” my mind inserts many caveats, which distinguish between the Church as Institution, and the Church as The Body of Christ.
    That said, I think Francis is doing everything he can to bring the Institution into alignment with The Living Body of Christ. The resistance he faces in many quarters is depressing to me. May God give Francis strength!

  4. “My question is why should I give ascent to an Institutional Church that has so distorted what God can be for us?”

    There are many who join you in this question, Jerry. Myself included. History – long past and too recent – has clearly proven that the church as institution is far from Holy. As I get older, I tend to “suffer fools gladly” less and less. Gone are the days when titles and liturgical symbols of priestly or episcopal power will ensure the holders of blind obedience and open purses. Respect for leadership must be earned. Accountability must be present before financial support is given.

    God bless, dearly and mightily, all the true saints among us who bring holiness to the church. I’m thankful for all the mentors in my life who showed the goodness of the Body of Christ despite the disappointments and disillusions with the institution.

  5. Thank you for your comment Isabella. I was wondering if my post was too personal and perhaps too negative in tone. I didn’t intend it to be, but one never knows how others may interpret ones’ swords.

    I volunteer each week at a soup kitchen sponsored by the local Sisters of St. Joseph. The people I have volunteered with for years and those we try to serve seem to be the real body of Christ for me. Yet I know this is not the only way and I respect those who findThe Body of Christ in countless other ways and places.

    Those struggling for change inside the institutional Church are heroes in their environment, and need our support. Some pay a stiff price for their bravery in the face of power.

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