Does loving God have to mean following the letter of the laws and teachings of the Catholic Church?
A Reflection for Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
You can find today’s readings here.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Dt 6:4-5)
So many of the Catholic Church’s internal debates center on the proper place and interpretation of laws and teachings in the Christian life. Generally speaking, there are two basic approaches: Some Catholics insist upon following the letter of the law, as articulated in the Catechism for example, while others take a more contextualized approach by interpreting the underlying spirit of a law in a given context. Even more rudimentarily speaking, these approaches are seen as either doctrinal or pastoral.
While these approaches are often (and understandably) polarized and debated, they both spring from a God-given desire to live out the church’s sole mission in service to the world: “that God's kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.” (Gaudium et Spes, 45).
I like to imagine that, if somehow I were able to love God with all my heart, soul and strength, I would look differently at the debates over laws and teachings in our church
Like many other Catholics—and perhaps you, too!—I often find myself caught between these two ways of looking at the laws in the Bible and the teachings of the church. I do believe the church, as the body of Christ in the world, has a unique role to play in salvation history. I also know that that history is enormously complex and that the church has acted in ways that were directly opposed to the Gospel (Dignitatis Humanae, 12). As that history unfolds, there is more of it to reflect on and critique, making the life of the disciple one of unavoidably rigorous discernment. It’s not easy to be a Christian, nor does knowledge of God’s ultimate love and mercy make it easier.
In today’s first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, we hear the beating heart and soul of the Torah, the law revealed to Moses and the Jewish people: The Lord alone is our God. So central to the faith is this basic revelation that Jesus reasserts the primacy of loving God as the greatest commandment (Mt 22:34-40).
Does loving God mean following the letter of the laws and teachings of the Catholic Church? Does loving God mean pastorally applying the spirit of a law in a given situation? I honestly don’t know. But loving God does mean that both of those questions are of secondary importance at best.
I like to imagine that, if somehow I were able to love God with all my heart, soul and strength, I would look differently at the debates over laws and teachings in our church—something for everyone with an opinion, one way or the other, to strive for today.