Today’s gospel reading talks about the law. In Jesus’ time, and in ours, there is much debate over the place of law in our faiths. It has historically been used for bad, but also for good. The word “legalistic” is used often to describe many faith traditions, including Catholicism.
As always, there is the need for reflection on our motives and our intentions. Feeling self righteous about attending Sunday church services while living a life that contradicts everything taught in that church is missing the mark. And trying to earn our way into heaven ignores the great graces that Jesus pours onto us.
But, is there something to be said for “the law”?
When one adheres to a strict training schedule while preparing for a marathon, no one says “You are being too rigid. All of that isn’t necessary”. They acknowledge that the routine kept to train helps attain a great goal. When one spends weeks preparing to defend a dissertation or take a license exam, they are praised for their focus and commitment to their study schedule. But if one refuses to miss Mass on vacation or insists that their child is home for church Sunday after a sleepover, they are chided for their legalism. “You don’t have to go to Church,” people say.
Is it not true that going to church and taking part in the sacramental life of confession and Eucharistic adoration brings us closer to Jesus? Is it not true that being disciplined about prayer time results in spending more time with the Lord? And what usually happens when we spend more time with the only perfect person to ever live, the one who saved us? We become more like Him. We feel the warmth of his arms embracing us. We emulate him and live a life where, as the Missionaries of Charity say, “They look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.”
So yes, legalism for the wrong purpose is wrong. Adhering to laws that don’t draw us closer to the image of Christ is wrong. But as Jesus said in the gospel, “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.” They are called the greatest in Heaven because Jesus knew that there is a good and holy purpose for laws that are from the Lord. Keeping holy the Sabbath, loving your neighbor, remaining faithful to your spouse, and the other commandments are there because abiding by them makes us more like Jesus. And this is our great goal, to become more like Him, each and every day.
Keri Ninness is married to husband, Ross, and is a stay-at-home mom to Mary Kate (4), Thomas (2) and Timothy (1). She uses her background in social work to attempt to reason with the above children but spends most of her day using her horrible domestic skills as a short order cook.
Photo credit: http://sovjoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/delight-law.jpg