Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Law and the Love - How do we grow?

Reading from Franciscan priest Richard Rohr's book  this week - Things Hidden/Scripture as Spirituality - I came upon the paragraphs below and have been thinking about them for a few days.  His premise (I believe) is that we Christians can get so hung up on the letter of the law that we cannot see nor hear Jesus' teachings to us about the law............maybe you'll read on, find it interesting, boring, confusing or enlightening - Happy Sacred Sunday!

"The reason we can move toward real freedom is because we started with moral laws and clear expectations from authority figures, which put good and needed limits to our natural egocentricity.  I'll bet most of you reading this book began rather conservatively.  A good therapist will tell you that predictability, order and tradition are really the only way to create a healthy ego structure in the early years.

Torah, or Law, is the best and most helpful place to begin, but not the place to stay, and surely not the place to end.  "Written letters bring death, but the Spirit alone brings life," as Paul said (2 Corinthians 3:6).

One person who understood this is Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit, possibly the single greatest Catholic theologian of the twentieth century.  He wrote volume after volume of theology as the church rediscovered itself before, during and after Vatican II.  Rahner wrote in his 1972 book, The Shape of the Church to Come:  "We must show men and women today, at least the beginnings of the path that leads credibly and concretely into the freedom of God.  But have no doubt, freedom is the goal.  Where men and women have not begun to have the experience of God and of God's spirit who liberates us from the most profound anxieties of life, and from our endless guilt, there is really no point in proclaiming to them the ethical norms of Christianity"  But that is exactly what we do. Unfortunately, most do not take the law as a foil, but rather as a fulfillment.

Until people have had some level of inner religious experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideas of Jesus.  Indeed, they will not be able to understand them.  At most they would be only the source of even deeper anxiety.  You quite simply don't have the power to obey the law, especially issues like forgiveness of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power and so on, except in and through union with God.  But Paul comes at it from the opposite direction, "Give them the law until it frustrates them to hell!""

Any thoughts?.......


  1. Great passage and very true.My own experience is that the thirst for experience of God is there from an early age and I was fortunate to have had plenty of good and nurturing people and opportunities to explore and question my faith without fear of judgement. I was also a child of Vatican II and unlike some people I thrived in the open environment and attitudes this offered. I think that the Catholic church has pushed itself into a constricting corner more recently and I fear that young people in particular don't get a very rich experience and vitality of church community from their experiences. I live in the UK which may be very different from the US situation.
    Thanks for posting this - it is food for thought !!

  2. Oh geez - there is SO much I could say about this based on my own experience. In a nutshell, though, I went from being completely reckless and unbound, to trying to find laws to follow to give me a sense of structure and boundaries, to receiving the grace that freed me from that need.

    Where I resonate with this Now, is in the sense of laws as boundaries. I've never been very good at boundaries and I've finally realized that for me boundaries have to be organic. I can't so much DECIDE to have a boundary as REALIZE that a boundary just is, born of awareness of my true heart's desires and where the limits are NOW in my own process.

  3. Philomena,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I'm not sure the Roman Catholic church has the franchise on pushing itself into a corner any more than the rest of our Christian denominations do. We/I feel inadequate to relay the richness of my faith with young people in a meaningful enough way to "capture" or just "intrigue" them to want to know more about Jesus. It's a struggle, the evangelism stuff, but we are indeed called to it, so stumbling, conversation, attempts - weak as they are need to continue even when we don't know the vehicle in which to drive our beliefs home:) Again, thanks for stopping by.


  4. Hi Pollinatrix - Oh yes, I believe that we do need boundaries also and I was lucky to have grown up in a family that did establish some boundaries for me. I think when we step over that imaginary line and decide to build barriers around those boundaries that we may be in danger of misunderstanding those initial boundaries that were supposed to make us free rather than restricting ourselves to attaining unimaginable and unachievable lives of perfection......and btw, it's funny that I read your comments just now I had just finished reading a post over at Country Parson ( about just this subject. Oh yes, I agree there is a world of words that can be explored about our true boundaries and our perceived boundaries and where those principles actually take us!

    Always happy to see you here!


  5. I like Karl Rahner. He is one of the first ones who showed me that the goal of our life is to respond to Godde's love. Something like Godde loves us into loving Her back, a sort of back and forth of love... I find this very grounding and liberating.

    I usually like Richard Rohr. He may be right when he says Until people have had some level of inner religious experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideas of Jesus, but I find this a bit harsh. And I am not into harshness these days...

    I would say that following Christ is a grace, such a joy that one can only feel sorry for those who don't experience it (which may be another way of being harsh when I write this...).

    Thank you for a stimulating post, SS :-)