road rules, fear, freedom and life

Mar 26, 2012

This morning (Sunday) I was on the road soon after 6am driving to Amberley for Mass.  I’m was a bit nervous about this. Let me explain why.

At 5.00am a couple of key road rules changed in New Zealand.  You might take a moment to watch the video:

I was a bit nervous for a couple of reasons. The first is that when I watched the video and took the test last night, I got two answers wrong.  As a result I wasn’t confident about my own ability to be one hundred percent safe with the new rules.

The second reason for my anxiety was that even if I do know the new rules and keep them to perfection, I have no guarantee that everyone else on the road will keep the new rules.

You will appreciate that I had good reason to be anxious.

Our society has little regard for anything to do with rules imposed by an external authority.  But we also know that when we go out on the road, we hope and pray that every other road-user is committed to keeping the letter of every road rule.  One person disregarding even a single road rule creates chaos and life-threatening danger. Clear rules, and law-abiding road-users, make the roads a place of real freedom: people are able to travel from A to B without fear.

A country puts systems in place to try to get people to keep these rules of the road. The police watch carefully and anyone who is caught breaking a rule gets a punishment. The system is the best that humans are able to devise and enforce. It is based on fear.  Most of us watch our speed primarily so that we won’t get a ticket.

Unfortunately humans have pretty much perfected the fear technique. Fear appears to be effective, but only if the aim is nothing more than to get the army to march in step and shoot on queue.  Army ‘boot camps’ are a classic example. The boss shouts and screams and the soldiers jump.  You never hear the Sargeant Major gently encouraging the soldiers to love each other! 

TV reality shows adopt the same technique: the TV chef is loud and offensive in the kitchen and the weight-loss trainer hurls threats.  ‘If you don’t do it you will be punished’. 

And this is where the fear technique runs out of puff. Humans (in our fallen and weak state) might settle for obedience to the letter of rules. We even take this to an extreme and become legalistic and moralistic.  But this is not really living at all. Humans are created for freedom and for life. Human life is fully lived only by those who reject any compromise of the ideals of God’s law for human life.

The law of God, as revealed in scripture and communicated in the teachings of the Church, is not a human creation. Instead we accept that this law is given by God as the key to happiness; the method leading to all we most deeply yearn for.

Obedience to the letter of the law might be able to achieve a degree of physical safety. (I would not dare to drive on the road if there were no rules). But in the depth of our hearts, healthy humans know that they long for much more than fear-driven obedience to the letter of any law.

This is the heart of today’s Old Testament. Remember Jeremiah 31:31. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts”.

Blessed Pope John Paul made this point vividly in his Theology of the Body. Many Catholics are negatively disposed towards Catholic teaching and doctrine. John Paul does not see this negativity as ultimately problematic AS LONG AS the person listens to the law planted in the depth of their hearts.  

This method (listening to the depth of my own heart) works, since if something is objectively true (i.e. if something is the intention of God for humans), this Truth is also placed in the depth of every human heart.  “I will place my law within them and write in upon their hearts.”

This is why obedience to the law of God enables the life of the heart to flourish.

Too often we reduce God’s law, as determined by scripture and communicated by the Church, to a smorgasboard of optional extras which one can take or leave. As a result we find ourselves not only dabbling in the Catholic faith, but also dipping just our toes in the real living of abundant life.

If we step back from this adventure of life, we constantly feel as though we are existing, coping, enduring, managing and surviving, but never truly LIVING.

A difficulty we face is that there are many noises and voices overwhelming us in every moment. The pressure of such a  cacophany  makes it difficult to hear the deepest desires of our own hearts.  Too easily we settle for what the majority are doing or for what is most acceptable in our culture or in our families. 

This lure to conformity is deceptive, since after we have done everything we think we should do (in the hope of feeling connected (to culture or family for example), we are left with a tenuous connection to family, friends, society, and (most distressing of all) we don’t even feel close to ourselves.

There comes a wonderful moment of maturity when we realise that our goals are limited and fantastic (as in fantasy), and our methods (human energy, adventure and planning) are flawed and futile. 

In this moment of awakening I realise that I am little different from the suitor trying to manipulate affections from the would-be lover. 

How much easier to let the adventure of healthy happy living ready me for the unexpected, overwhelming and all-transforming experience of falling in love. Such an encounter bears the immediate fruit of freedom. In this event my heart is awakened, and the law of God written on my heart becomes both my motivation and energy for life.

Now I am no longer keeping rules in order to obtain a reward. Instead I am living in an intimate friendship with Jesus Christ who is God. My keeping of the law is now the behaviour that flows from this ultimately satisfying relationship.

This perspective is the heart of Catholic life.  Tragically we have too often fallen into the trap of using fear to motivate people to keep the commandments and follow the teachings of the Church. The fruit of fear is never more than an external observance of the letter of a law.

The call to a New Evangelisation is a opportunity to touch anew the hearts of Catholics who may have not had the beauty of the life of God within the Catholic Church presented to them in an attractive and meaningful way.

In this way the life of God within the Church will be appreciated by all “people of good-will

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