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.

 

 

I believe in…the communion of saints

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On All Saints Day, I find myself thinking less of big-name saints and more of dear friends and family who have died. I truly believe that these good women and men, whom I was blessed to know and walk this earth with, have now joined that glorious communion in heaven. They are now members of the All Saints Club. They are my personal saints.

Then comes All Souls Day. This is the day to remember our dearly departed and pray for their souls. Oops! Do I have my feast days mixed up? Is my theology screwed?

Many, I suppose, would say Yes and proceed to guide me to the requisite section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches about purgatory and the need to pray for souls. (CCC 1030-1032) We cannot presume eternal salvation, they would tell me. Only God knows if our loved ones have, indeed, attained heavenly glory. Even good people die with traces of sin that need purifying, and it is only through our prayers and actions that they can eventually be welcomed into heaven.

There was a time when I believed in purgatory. It made logical sense. It seemed a fitting place for those of us who tread the path between sinner and saint; definitely not hell material, but not quite ready for heaven. I was taught as a child that reciting three rosaries would free one soul from purgatory. Wow! I could do that? Cool!

On the other hand, it’s easy to be sceptical. The church’s teaching and promotion of purgatory opened the gates to abuses in the form of indulgences, a way to purchase a fast track ticket to heaven for yourself and your loved ones while filling the church coffers. These “Fear-Instilling Fund-Raisers” were wildly successful over the years, financing the building of massive churches and funding crusades.

Hubby was always a purgatory sceptic. His favourite argument was the gospel story of the good thief.

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Jesus never said, “see you soon” to the good thief. He said “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” This, hubby argues, is proof of the boundless love and forgiveness of Jesus. It’s a hard argument to deny.

I no longer believe in purgatory but I do believe in the communion of saints. (Oops, my cafeteria catholic roots are showing! 😉 ) The communion of saints assures me, in my grief, that those I loved and are now gone from this earth have not only entered into a new and more glorious existence, they remain united with us in spirit across time and space, between heaven and earth.

Along with Mary and all the saints, our loved ones now pray with us, pray for us, and pray for all those we offer up in need of God’s mercy and love.

I still pray the traditional prayer for the dead. The words are comforting and come easily to the mind, heart and lips when I hear news of someone who has recently died.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, Let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Yes, today I remember my family and friends who have died.

With faith, I believe that they have joined that glorious communion of saints in heaven.

With hope, I believe that one day we will be united in God’s presence forever.

With love, I believe that this is the greatest of virtues. Love knows no bounds. Love transcends time and space. Love binds us between heaven and earth.

Love never dies.

 

 

sinners and saints

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Happy All Saints Day! Today we stop and remember good and holy women and men who have gone before us. They are our heavenly mentors and guides here on earth.

When I was a child, I loved the stories of saints. Their lives were portrayed in glowing phrases, with even more glowing pictures. We placed them on pedestals of perfection, knowing we could never attain their heights of glory and holiness.

As an adult, I learned that even the saintliest of saints had a shadowy sinner side. My heroes were tarnished. They had vile tempers and moments of doubt. Their theology was sometimes questionable. Blessed are those who are persecuted in my name? Some saints were persecuted not for their holiness, but because they were just damn difficult to live with!

The pedestals were lowered, sometimes taken away all together. Saints were simply people like us trying their best to live a faithful life. They may not have been 100% holy, but they sought to be.

Today we are witnessing pedestals crumbling, one after another, beneath many who had achieved great heights of  worldly success. These secular heroes all had their cadre of adoring fans. They were models of achievement in their fields, garnering praise, prestige, power and money along the way. What were the causes of their falls from fame to infamy?

Sexual harassment. Rape. Lies. Fraud. Stealing. Money laundering. Sleazy dealings. etc and etc…

The world has always been populated with sinners and saints. We are all a composite of sinner and saint.

But why are so many blatant sinners populating the upper echelons of power in our society? Our governments? Our religious institutions? Our world? 

Today, Pope Francis tweeted,

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On this Feast of All Saints, I pray…

That the light of justice will continue to shine on the corrupt, bringing to light the evils that are done in the dark. 

That the pedestals holding those who abuse power will implode under their feet. 

And I pray for saints…

Please, God, many saints. Good women and men who will bravely step forward to lead God’s people around the world on the path to justice and peace. Leaders who will use their power to serve, not to abuse . Leaders who will fight for the rights of all, not to line their pockets and those of their families and cronies. 

Amen, and Amen!