05 November 2006

Theology vs. Love?

Lately I've been thinking about how easy it is to think of theology as something that is opposed to experiencing a personal relationship with God.

I remember going to Mass where the priest gave an excellent homily about his conversion experience during seminary. He joked about how he could tell us about some ecumenical synod from the early Church, but the vast majority of us didn't need that knowledge to be strong in our faith (which is true). Fortunately, this man found what it means to sacrifice our hearts in worship of God. Unfortunately, in the process, I think he fell to the other extreme, tossing the baby with the bathwater, by disregarding liturgical rules and theology as stuff that gets in the way of a personal relationship with Christ. He welcomed me to receive the Eucharist even though I wasn't Catholic at the time. I know he meant well, but the fact is such an invitation is an act of disobedience to the Church's authority. While it's one thing to disagree with a teaching, when does God ever call us to outright disobedience of His Church?

If the whole point to Christianity is growing into the perfect love of God, what's the point to knowing or caring about theology? Does God really care if we believe in transubstantiation or praying to saints? The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17) If knowledge of the Truth is of any benefit to us, it must lead us to perfecting the sacrifice of our hearts to God.

Knowledge by itself isn't of much benefit to us. Satan knows that God exists. He knows Jesus is His Son, the Word made flesh. The disciples also knew these things. Peter confessed, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," and found the answer to his own question when the rooster crowed. Think about it... the Catholic Church was founded by eleven men who couldn't so much as stay awake while Jesus prayed and were nowhere to be found during his beating and sentencing. Mary was there, and John was present at the cross, but everyone else who knew the Truth about their God ran into hiding.

So clearly we need more than just knowledge. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had no yet descended at this time. But look at how many times love and truth are mentioned together in the New Testament writings. The Church Fathers always stressed obedience to the Church, the priests and bishops. Clearly, the Spirit does not lead us to cast away knowledge of the Truth. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Look at how many times David and Old Testament prophets spoke of loving God's commandments. Isn't it odd for one to love rules?

Society's worship of freedom and choice has seeped into the Church, leading us to think that it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you believe in Christ, live a good life, or whatever. Most Christians would deny they don't believe that, but if faith expresses itself in action or works, then we believe what we do.

What have we done to invite people into a deeper relationship with God? What have we done to serve the least of these? What have we done to eliminate habitual sin from our lives? What have we done to encourage others to eliminate sin from their lives? What have we done to guard against our sexually charged, prideful culture? What have we sacrificed to God, really?

Too often we accept Jesus' teaching that our holiness must exceed that of the Pharisees in order to enter the Kingdom of God as a cop out that our faith in Christ makes us pure and holy, so good works are not essential. I now see it as a challenge. If those who lack the Spirit can do as much as they do, those of us who are in the Spirit are enabled (and expected) to do so much more! St. Margaret of Scotland fed nine orphans and 24 adults before eating her own meal. The same faith and Spirit that drove her to sacrifice so much is also in us, and for those who are Catholic or Orthodox, the same Eucharist that fed her body and soul also feeds us.

I'm not even sure what I'm saying here means for me, much less anyone else, but I am challenged to give myself completely to God's will. Saying that might make it sound like I'm going to end up in the priesthood, but St. Margaret of Scotland was married. She and her husband, King Malcom, together kept two Lents (before Christmas and Easter). Even if I knew my vocation was for the priesthood, yet for some selfish reason I chose marriage instead, I would have "escaped" the priesthood. But there is no escaping the vocation of holiness. There is no way I can claim that God isn't calling me to sacrifice everything -- including myself -- to follow Christ.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. (1st Peter 1:22)


Anonymous said...

Great reflection, Jason. There are so many things to struggle with as you forge your way amid so many competing voices in today's church.

One thing I've learned over the years is not to be tricked by strategies of exclusion. Here's what I mean: Someone will tell you, if it's devotional than it's not contemplative, or if it's theological it's opposed to faith, or if something is pastoral then it's not concerned with church law.

Usually this is just someone trying to describe their way of being a catholic christian as better than someone else's.

All of these are tricks. We hold it all together.

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