love of law vs law of love

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“To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40

When I was growing up, being a catholic meant following all the laws of the church. These laws were presented as black and white directives. Our faithfulness as catholics was measured by our faithfulness to these laws. Here are some examples:

  • obligatory Mass attendance
  • obligatory head coverings for women and girls in church
  • obligatory confession before receiving communion
  • obligatory fasting before receiving communion
  • avoidance of all things Protestant, including bibles, books, services, spouses, friends
  • no eating meat on Fridays

An obsessiveness with the law often lead to strange debates. What constituted a head covering? Can a kleenex replace a hat? How late can one come to Mass and still observe their obligation? How early can you leave? Is taking medicine before Mass breaking the fast?

The ever present threat of mortal sin fed our obsessiveness. If we died in the state of mortal sin, we were told, we would face an eternity of hell fire. Fire hurts. It hurts like hell! Avoiding such horrendous punishment became the goal of every good catholic.

And yet, even as a child, I couldn’t understand how missing Sunday Mass was on the same moral footing as murder. Since both were considered a mortal sin, either could send your soul to hell. Really? Would missing Mass put me on the same fast track to damnation as, say, an Adolph Hitler?

Perhaps it’s because of this illogical equating of man-made laws with God’s laws that many of these laws eventually fell to the wayside. The greatest gift of the Second Vatican Council was to sieve through the detritus of rules and regulations in order to focus on faith as a living organism. Being a catholic became less about following rules and more about relationship; with God, with each other and with the world.

Love of Law vs Law of Love

Jesus wasn’t a fan of pharisees who put their love of the law before love of those they served. Despite Jesus’s own admonitions, pharisaical obsession with laws continues in our church today, and is perhaps the greatest cause of division.

For example;

Our liturgy is meant to be the “source and summit” of the church’s prayer life. Instead of focusing on prayer, some liturgists spend time and energy fighting over correct words and actions. Instead of celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity, battles are fought over worship styles, vestments, music, and church decor.

Another example;

Our belief in the dignity of life from conception to the grave has been co-opted into a single-issue culture war by extreme pro-life advocates. They judge politicians and political parties solely on their stance for or against abortion rights. They fight to deny free and easy access to birth control (which is proven to reduce abortions) in the name of religious freedom.

These same pro-life voices are often strangely silent when it comes to promoting universal health care, welcoming refugees and immigrants, guaranteeing living wages, assisting low income families and other social justice issues.

Obsessive adherence to or promotion of laws should never trump the basic law of love.We are blessed with a pope who never tires of preaching about love as the most basic core of our faith. Loving God must translate into human love, or it is meaningless. Love means we care for each other. Love means we work for justice, equality and peace for all. Love means we fight for laws that ensure basic human rights for everyone.

The law of love is so simple. It doesn’t require extensive discernment or study. All that is needed is a touch of empathy…

Do unto others

as you would have them

do unto you.

 

 

trumpian truth

washington-cherry-treeWhen I was growing up, every Canadian kid knew the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree. Boy chops down tree. Dad asks him who did it. Boy, knowing he faced certain punishment, bravely admitted his guilt. Boy grows up to be the first president of the United States of America.

The moral of the story wasn’t difficult to grasp. Telling the truth, even if it might hurt you, is a sign of good character. It is the kind of good character that is not only exulted in famous leaders of the past, it’s an example for all of us in the present. Good countries are built on the good character of their leaders and their people.

Some truth is subjective. I live my life based on certain religious truths that aren’t shared by all, but there are moral truths that are generally accepted. Truths that are necessary for the common good, and are reflected in our laws. It is wrong to steal from your neighbour. It is wrong to kill each other. It is wrong to slander another. It is wrong to lie.

Our justice system is based on the premise that the truth must be told in courts of law. Oaths are taken as a sign of allegiance to a country, a government, or a group. Vows are a sign of fidelity and love in marriage. None of us are perfect, but we have to believe that the person speaking the words will act on them to the best of their ability. The basic belief and need for speaking truthfully is foundational in our governments, societies and in our families.

All good parents try to instill the importance of telling the truth to our children. One of my kiddies tried to get off the hook by saying, “I wasn’t lying. I was only kidding!” We stressed over and over the importance of honesty whether it was a pre-schooler’s spilled juice cup, or a teenager’s evening plans.

When trust is broken, it takes a lot of work to regain it. How can we trust a person if we can’t trust what they say? This was a basic lesson for all children to learn.

And yet, here we are. The first days of the new American administration are showing that President Trump feels no greater urgency to tell the truth than did Candidate Trump. His staff faces the media and unabashedly speak of “alternative facts” and how their boss’s opinion is based on what he believes is true.

Sadly, there is some truth to this. If I restricted my facts to alt-right news media, Trump’s speeches and twitter account, my view of what is true would be completely skewed from what it is now. I would believe that the USA is a dystopian wasteland, a carnage of poverty and violence. I would blame the “other” for all my misfortunes, and feel free expressing my fear and hatred of cultures that don’t mirror my own white, Christian world.

Trump’s “truth” is not my truth but it is, sadly, shared by many. Politicians are elected by people who agree with the agenda and platform that the politician presents; their truth. Trump is now acting on all the promises he made, promises that seemed so outlandish that saner minds were convinced they would never happen. So, in this sense, Trump was not lying.

Governing requires discerning for the common good, and good discernment requires careful exploration of all the facts at hand. And, here is the danger. As with his horrible “birtherism” movement, Trump’s truths are not based on objective facts. He isn’t a fan of intelligence briefings. He bypasses inconvenient statistics and makes up facts on the fly. He flings numbers around that can’t be proven, just to inflate his own ego. He bullies and threatens anyone who questions him, especially the media, and is already silencing federal employees and departments.

Put simply, Trump’s truths are based on lies. No amount of doublespeak, word spinning or doctoring can hide the simple fact that the man will unabashedly ignore objective facts if they are counter to his version of truth.

If Trump had chopped down the cherry tree, he would have probably pointed his finger at the kid next door, the one from the family with a questionable back-ground. You know, the ones who shouldn’t be here in the first place. All this while still holding the hatchet in his tiny hands.

empathy, gift and curse

Empathy is at the core of the moral life. Without empathy, a person is unable to make the mental and emotional transference to the other. For example, a psychopath is unable to feel the fear or the pain they are inflicting. Without empathy, we become self-centered to the extreme. We have no concern for the other. We cannot share their joys or their pain.

But, empathy comes with its burdens. Yes, we rejoice in the happiness of others. Their joy lightens our lives. It is the pain that sometimes becomes too difficult to bear.

And, yet…

It is precisely the burden of suffering that we need to share. When our shoulders are bowed by the weight of all, we reach out to friends and family to help us carry the grief. In turn, we offer our hands, our shoulders and our hearts to help carry the pain of others.

Empathy, if embraced too fully, can become the enemy of peace. Caring can become harmful worry. Instead of helping to carry the weight, we take on the full load and become overwhelmed ourselves. We lose our center.

We lose our peace.

We lose hope.

We become frozen in our helplessness, and are no good for others or ourselves.How do we find the balance we need?

There is a scene in the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar” when Jesus is overwhelmed with the crowds seeking his help, seeking cures and miracles. LEAVE ME ALONE! he cries. It’s a heart-wrenching wail of human angst. So, what does Jesus do?

The gospels tell us that Jesus often went seeking solitude. This was not to run away from or ignore the pain of others, but to replenish his soul, rejuvenate his own spirit. He went to pray, offering his burdens and those of others to the ONE who can handle the burdens of all.

Some of the kindest people I know, those with great empathetic hearts, are also faithful persons of prayer. Their love extends beyond their own circle, as daily they raise a litany of prayers for those in need of God’s grace and protection.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

(Matthew 11:28-30)