living law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish
the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish
but to fulfil…”

Perhaps the most tragic misunderstanding of Christian faith is to think that it’s all about rules and regulations, a reduction of faith to moralism and legalism.  Unfortunately church leadership has too often been satisfied when parishioners simply adhere to the letter of the law, leading people to believe that faith is about nothing more than keeping rules.

A quick reading of today’s gospel might, on first glance, reinforce this misunderstanding when Jesus teaches that “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”

But as recent popes have repeatedly emphasised, “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, of rules to be followed, or of prohibitions. Seen that way it puts us off. Christianity is a person who loved me immensely, who asks for my love. Christianity is Christ.” (Pope Francis 23 January 2019)

This does not mean that the law is not important, but rather that adherence to good law cannot be the goal in itself. Good law is essential because it provides us with sound direction and gives us a consistent and objective measure of our internal spiritual health. For example the person who fails to forgive others (especially when this is externally visible in their behaviour and conversation) has capacity for inner growth and healing.

As we reflected yesterday, this forgiveness is not easy. But the burden of carrying resentment and hate is too damaging for the one who does not forgive. When we decide to forgive we give ourselves freedom.

The people of the Old Testament had a healthy appreciation of their need for law. When Moses came down the mountain with ten commandments the people were delighted because now they knew the fast track to harmony with God and with each other. They understood that in these laws God had given them the handbook for healthy happy human living. These Old Testament people were clearly delighted because they immediately enshrined the tablets of stone on which the finger of God had written in a gold case (the Ark of the Covenant) which they huddled around both as they slept at night and as they journeyed through the desert by day.

A world without law is not a paradise of freedom.  It is a land of anarchy.

Imagine if a computer hacker hijacked the city traffic-light signals at rush hour one morning. There would be chaos, accidents and road deaths as all intersection lights turned green at the same moment.  We rely on the traffic lights working with precision in order for us to get to our destinations safely. But the one who spends the night admiring the traffic lights will never get to dinner with friends. The law is a sign that points us to to a destination and enables us to journey and arrive more easily and in safety.

Perhaps the most helpful sign that we have in life is the witness of the people who surround us. If we are to remain healthy and grow in maturity of faith, we need to spend good time with people who are also seeking to live more deeply in relationship with Jesus. This does not mean finding people who are perfect, but rather spending time in company and conversation with other weak and vulnerable people who are on the same journey of faith seeking the same destination.

I am delighted to notice this good company and conversation happening in the comments section of this Food For Faith website. Here a growing number of people are sharing their experience of life with God and many people comment to me that this is a helpful and encouraging part of Food For Faith. This is more than I had ever hoped for from the website and I am grateful for your sharing and participation. Thank you all for your comments. And if you haven’t made a comment yet please don’t hesitate to do so whenever you feel moved to.

This morning, in response to yesterday’s reflection on forgiveness as a decision, one reader encouraged another suggesting that forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting. This is a wonderfully freeing fact…the old “forgive and forget” saying is not only unhelpful – it is wrong! We don’t have the power to forget. The more we try to forget something the more it will stay with us!

We need to forgive – that is to make a decision to forgive, and we need to remember that all God requires of me is my decision to forgive others as God has already forgiven me. I need to remember that even though I do not yet feel forgiving, God is using my decision to forgive as an invitation for his ongoing healing activity in my life.

An Invitation

  • Consider that the law that you know to be the law of Jesus Christ (and the church community to which you belong) is a gift. Make a decision to live the letter and the spirit of every one of these laws 100% for the next week. Then every morning and evening ask yourself if you feel more or less happy, more or less fulfilled, more or less in relationship with Jesus Christ. You might be surprised at what you notice in your life.

12 Responses to "living law"
  1. Thank you for today’s reflection as I have always been able to forgive but felt troubled and and thought it wrong of me to not forget.

  2. I remember reading somewhere….”forgiving is not forgetting, it is letting go of the hurt”.
    Found that very comforting.

  3. A technique I learnt through Catholics Returning Home has been a huge help with forgiveness when I remember to use it. When the person who is challenging, you need to forgive etc comes to mind bless them. You can associate that person with a primary colour. Every time you see that colour bless them in your mind or out loud. At first it is very much through gritted teeth but it gradually does work.
    Thank you Father John for your very inspiring reflections. Blessings

    • I like your idea of blessing a person & using a primary colour, thank you.
      Thank you Father John for all these beautiful inspirations.

  4. i love the analogy of just sitting and watching the pretty lights, (red, amber, green) and not getting to any destination. Early in my engineering career I was involved in traffic engineering, intersection design, and the co-ordinated traffic lights of the ChCh one way street system. Yes we did watch the lights and get to our destination. but 50 years on we see and understand a different destination is in sight.

  5. Every day Father John, you challenge our thinking ! I look forward to each day’s wisdom, consideration and growth. Thank you so much for all we have received and all that you will present to us, guided by the Holy Spirit. Chris.

  6. Father John
    Thank you for this more informed reflection on the place of laws and regulations in our Catholic life. Your quote from Pope Francis says it all! How I wish I had received a better understanding years ago in my younger days. I appreciate your daily reflections !

  7. As a new Catholic 36 years ago the rules of the church rather overwhelmed me, and I struggled with trying to conform. But over the years I have now accepted that they are the guidelines to keep me on track and to help me on my journey with Jesus. I don’t read them religiously, but refer to them when I am a little lost.
    Thank you for the reminder about the need for laws Father John.

  8. You can give out love and kindness to even close family members but some have difficulty receiving it and you don’t get it returned in equal measure. It can be hurtful when this happens but I feel I lose nothing because I know God is happy with me sharing all his love. The strongest thing on earth is love. Also forgiving is freeing, we can experience little hurts and feel a grudge for a few days then realise maybe at time annoyed me a bit then realise it was too trivial to spend my time worrying about it.

  9. none of us passes through life without hardship and great sorrow. Shed tears for your grief but do not hold bitterness against any person or any situation. Bitterness stunts the spirit and weakens the heart. Accept what you cannot change and ask God and your fellowman for comfort. In that way you will live well. Give in to the bitterness and you will never fully live. Some very wise words spoken to me by a very caring person.

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