Monday, July 23, 2012

Is Christianity an Oppressive Imposition of Rules?

Too many people (even Catholics) think that the essence of Christianity consists in a series of moral demands, most of which are impossible to keep, and which therefore result in making us feel guilty and making our lives gloomy. People even tend to think of doctrine not so much as the expression of God's revelation as the "stuff that we are required to believe even though it doesn't make any sense."

An external, oppressive imposition of rules. No wonder so many people abandon Christianity.

But this is not the Gospel. The Gospel is fundamentally a relationship with Jesus Christ, and, through Him, the Father in the Holy Spirit. God loves us, and by His grace raises us up to a participation in His own Divine life. Our life consists in the fact that we belong to God, and that we are called to union with Him. God brings us into union with Him by making us His children. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He gives Himself to us. Christianity is life with God.

It's a whole new life!

And His grace is His continual gift of this life, this "energy" that enables us to become "like Him." This means becoming "perfect," becoming the persons we were created to be, becoming happy. His grace recreates us, and enables us to adhere to Him with transformed, "supernatural" capacities of mind and heart: faith, hope, and charity. And his commands show us how this life unfolds in our daily circumstances; they show us its authentic direction; they indicate the space where our love is able to give itself and grow.

We are not just burdened with a bunch of rules, and then left alone. People are afraid to embrace the demands of Christian morality because they think they have to do it themselves. But this is not what Christianity proposes. We are not "by ourselves" and we are not left in the hands of our own power.

People need to hear and see this witness--the reality and the beauty and attractiveness of this fact--in the lives of Christians. If all Christians do is preach abstract moral duties, no one is going to change. People need to learn that they are not alone, and that they do not make themselves.

The witness of the Church is that we belong to God, that He has made us for Himself, that He gives Himself to us in grace, and that He wants us to ask for His love so that there might be the space within us for Him to give His love more and more. This is how the Church prays, and how she teaches us to pray. 

The "gifts of [His] grace" bring us into a relationship with Him and empower us to "keep [His] commands." It is God, through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to live according to His will. Grace is good news! We are not alone. We belong to God, and He wants us to call upon Him, so that He might give us the life for which we have been made. Thus in the collect for Sunday's liturgy we prayed:

Show favor, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

And I love this simple prayer, which can be prayed at the start of every day:

may everything we do
begin with Your inspiration
and continue with Your help
so that all our prayers and works
may begin in You
and by You be happily ended
We ask this through Christ our Lord.