Rules Without Relationship Are Deadly
Twenty-Seventh Week of Year II Thursday October 6, 2016
The Responsorial Psalm proclaims God “drawn near” in Jesus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited his people” (see Luke 1:68).
Galatians 3: 1-5 is Paul’s proclamation of the “stewardship of freedom.” The Galatians, who had accepted Christianity, were falling into the trap of thinking they had to observe all the Jewish religious customs which the Church had already decided not to impose on Gentile converts.1 Something in us makes us want to find religious security in the faithful observance of a clear set of rules and practices. But the word “faithful” here is in direct contradiction to its root meaning. This focus on rules and observances it not “faith-full” at all.
It is a very human way of trying to keep God on our side by doing what we think God wants us to do — thinking that his fidelity to us depends on our fidelity to him (again, using the word “fidelity” in a sense that leaves faith, fides, out of the picture). This turns religion into a system, a relationship with God that is essentially a quid pro quo that does not require personal knowledge and love of God at all.
If this sounds exaggerated, ask yourself when you first began to feel you had a “friendship” with Jesus Christ? When did you begin to feel you knew him as a person? That you wanted to do things for him just because you loved him?
You may have had this relationship with him from an early age. But thousands of Christians appear, at least, to “perform their religious duties” just out of a sense of obligation. The old catechisms even spoke of Mass as our “Sunday obligation” and specified just how much of the Mass we had to be present at to “fulfill our obligation.” And many people still focus more on what they have to do to be good Catholics than on whom they are doing it for, or how they need to do it to experience personal intimacy with God.
Law observance alone is not faithful stewardship. To be authentic Christians we need to experience that God has “visited his people.”
The experience of the Holy Spirit was so manifest in the early Church that Paul based his case on it when writing to the Galatians: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” Would that argument work with you?
In Luke 11: 5-13 Jesus bases his teaching on the knowledge he has — and we should have — of God as a person, a friend, a father. “Suppose one of you has a friend….” and “What father among you….”
Our religion, when we live it authentically, is personal interaction with God. This is our heritage. We need to preserve it as faith-full stewards. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited his people.”
1Acts 15: 19-29.