Faith and Rules
There are those who do not practice in an organized religion because they perceive the religion to be a collection of rules. And today, it can be the case that people view rules as “restricting”. They can “cramp my style.” The Church is only about telling me no.
But I would suggest what is important is to understand that being in the Catholic Church starts first with a relationship. It is not about following a set of rules first, but rather about developing a loving relationship with Jesus that moves us to want to live as He lived.
Let’s take a common example to understand the difference. Consider the relationship between a husband and wife. When they first starting dating, I suspect they did not start with a contract full of rules. They got to know each other. The probably discussed interests, jobs, hobbies and more.
Our relationship in faith is the same way. We are more likely to enter into a deep and powerful relationship with Jesus, we also begin by getting to know Him. (He already knows us.) It takes time and effort. It takes getting to know what He likes and values.
But in both instances, there comes a time, if the relationship is to be serious, where we begin to realize that the dating relationship, or our relationship has certain parameters that need to be considered if the relationship is to lead to fulfillment.
For example, if a couple is dating, but one of the parties decides always to do other things and not include their date, it is highly unlikely the relationship will last. While we may not refer to this as a rule, it becomes clear that being in this relationship means that we must make time for each other. A rule.
And in dating, there are other rules too. Without considering the types of behaviors that are and are not acceptable, it is unlikely the relationship will be deep. The same, then, is true with faith. It cannot be the case that a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with Jesus can develop if we are not willing to make certain behavior and attitude choices that demonstrate that this is a priority for us.
Because of the need to focus on the relationship, we can also discover that there are times where something was once a rule (for good reason) but when the reason no longer exists, the rule goes away too. Consider a very small child who is forbidden to ever cross the street.
For very small children, this is a prudent rule. But as children become adults, it is not longer necessary to have an absolute rule forbidding crossing a street. The wisdom and maturity of an adult is usually sufficient to make the rule unnecessary.
Today’s first reading shows us there are times that deciding what rules are needed and when the can be discarded are not always easy decisions. For centuries, circumcision had been something that defined Jewish identity for males. Now it is not the same case. The powerful relationship with Jesus becomes the reason the Jewish Law can be set aside.
Yet, it remains important to realize that a relationship with Jesus does not mean we can set aside every rule. The primacy of a rule to love God remains. The second rule, to love our neighbor as ourselves remains. How do we know the difference of rules that can be set aside and rules that must be followed?
Again, the first reading provides an answer. The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. We turn to the Church. We trust the Holy Spirit. This is a great reminder for us as we celebrate the Easter season and move towards Pentecost.
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