love of law vs law of love


“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.



truth vs love???

One of the dangers of reading too much, is that you store brilliant little nuggets in your brain and then forget where you read them! This is especially true when I`m cyber-surfing. I zip from local to national to international news, checking out several sites for balance. Then it`s time to check out the latest catholic news pages and blogs. Oh, and who can resist those tantalizing head-lines on the Yahoo home-page. Yes, of course I want to see the shocking fashion disaster on the latest red carpet…who doesn`t?!

I read recently (I don`t know where!) that our theology is affected by the emphasis we place on either truth or love. Oh no, yet another dividing line to categorize Catholics. Truth and love are central to our faith. How can we think of placing them in competition?

But, as is often the case, we build up a dichotomy by placing an undue emphasis on one to the detriment of the other. Church history is full of examples. The early councils concerned themselves with the heady question of the humanity and divinity of Jesus. They finally concluded that it`s not either-or, but both-and. Hard to wrap your head around, but such is the reality of mystery.

The reflection around truth-centered or love-centered theology goes something like this. Those who focus on the truth are more concerned about rules and regulations. Faithfulness is measured by obedience to the teachings of the church in all matters.

Those who focus on love are less concerned about dogmas, doctrines and ritual and more concerned about social justice and living the gospel in the world.

We have to be wary of any generalizations or over-simplifications. But, there is some truth (!) in this observation. And, as with other unnecessary dichotomies, they occur when we take the pendulum and swing it too aggressively in one direction or the other. And when we hang around on the extreme edges too long, the judging often begins. Traditionalists accuse the progressives of apostasy or heresy. Progressives accuse traditionalists of having a lack of gospel charity.

There is beauty and harmony when truth and love are in balance. How well do we balance truth and love in our own lives? Do you know someone who exemplifies this balance? What does their faith look like?

Faith and Politicians

Deborah Gyapong, of Canadian Catholic News, has written an insightful and thought-provoking article about the spiritual side of Jack Layton. Though raised in the United Church, institutional religion did not play a major role in his life. He shared his desire to explore faith issues after experiencing “this incredible sense of joy” after his public disclosure of his battle with prostate cancer. The entire article can be found on The Catholic Register online,

Jack Laytons spiritual side revealed during battle with cancer – Canada – The Catholic Register.

Jack Layton and the NDP party presented the same conundrum to card carrying Catholics in Canada that Democrats do to our American sisters and brothers. On the one hand, they espouse and fight passionately for social justice issues. Their preferential option for the poor, environmental sensibilities, and desire for a more equitable and just economy are spot on with Catholic social justice teachings.  On the other hand, their pro-choice and gay marriage stance puts them squarely on the other side of our moral fence.

As the tributes, memories, and stories of Jack’s life keep pouring in, it’s hard to ignore that he was a man of moral conviction. A good man. This was acknowledged by Bishop Pierre Morissette, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In an official statement of condolence, he described Jack Layton with the following words,

He was a dedicated politician who served his country with devotion and generosity, was concerned for the common good, and gave a wonderful example of courage and hope, especially during recent months when struggling against cancer.

It’s difficult not to make comparisons with right-wing, fundamentalist Christian politicians on both sides of our border. On the one hand, we have a man who firmly believed in respectful dialogue. After the past election Jack vowed that his party would no longer participate in the childish heckling that had become part and parcel of parliamentary debate. Instead, they would commit themselves to challenging the government to work, together, for the good of the country. For him, the good of the country did not mean allowing the rich to get richer on the backs of the poor.

On the other hand, we have conservative, Christian politicians who are vociferously pro-life. They are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights, but have no problem with capital punishment. (George W. Bush presided over 152 executions during his six years as Governor of Texas – the most of any Governor at the time.) These same pro-life politicians support tax breaks for the rich and cutting social programs for the poor. They believe that it is their God-given duty to dig their heels in and convert the rest of society to their way of thinking.  Dialogue is not in their vocabulary. Sometimes they don’t even get the concept of debate. Have you seen the media clips of Michele Bachmann robotically repeating her beliefs without answering the questions given to her?

Which politician is the better person? Which one has the potential to make the most effective change in the world? The one who wears their religion and their righteousness on their sleeve? Or the one who quietly goes about trying to live basic gospel values?