The Mosaic Law was intended to free them for worship, delivering them from slavery to pagan gods and from slavery to sin. When the Law (and the added customs and regulations) became an end in itself, it was truncated and severed from the One to whom it was meant to lead. Today in the Catholic Church there are enough laws, customs, and regulations to make even the most rigorous Pharisee proud. The danger is that we can fall into one of two traps. First, we can adhere to them with such vigor that we lose sight of the One they are freeing us to worship. We don’t allow our hearts and minds to be educated and formed by them, we just follow them blindly. We wind up cleaning the outside of the cup and stopping there, without going on to see God’s love and let it purify our hearts.
The second trap we can fall into is at the other extreme: to give ourselves an easy pass by presuming that “if my heart is in the right place, I don’t need to worry about all these rules and such.” With a lax attitude, we permit ourselves to ease up on fulfilling these laws which in truth will free us. “I know today is Sunday, and I should go to Mass, but it’s vacation! God’ knows I’m a good person.” It is in the Sunday Mass that we receive the many graces necessary toward our being that “good person.” The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, as with any of the Ten commandments and customs of the Church, is there to lead us to God. These free us from our often confused, subjective conclusions about how we should worship God and live our lives.
“Charity covers a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8). The law of love is the most important of all the commandments of the Lord. In Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark, Christ responds to a scribe’s question about the first of all the commandments: “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all our heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Love of God and neighbor is both the source and the summit of the Law of the Old Covenant and the New. Living these two greatest commandments purifies and cleanses our hearts — the inside of the cup. So when Christ says to give alms, he is telling the Pharisees to love their neighbors. Then their hearts will be clean.
Lord, we want our heart always to be focused on you. We need your guidance, for we can’t do it alone. We need you to teach us how to love you, how to worship and serve you. The laws you give us free us and guide us toward you. Help us see your hand leading us ever closer to you. Amen.
Father Michael Adams is the Pastor of Our Lady of the Shoals Catholic Church. Learn more about him here.