Something that I come across quite a lot as a priest is this: when someone has died or someone has become very ill, it often makes people very angry because they feel that God has let them down. Not only let them down, but broken his side of the bargain, so to speak. Working in a hospital for a few years I would often hear people say: ‘I never hurt anyone. Why has God done this to me?’ It is as if there was a legal contract and if we keep our side of it, then God is obliged to keep his side of it, by looking after us and making sure that nothing happens to us.
Now the problem is that there is no love in this way of thinking. There is no love in a legal contract. It is a contract, on paper or by word of mouth, and it is as cold as ice, just as the law is. However, there is one big difference with the way God works. God deals with us on the basis of love alone. Everything that we have is a gift from God. We do not deserve any of it and we have not earned any of it. God does not owe us anything and will never owe us anything. If I manage to be faithful to my priesthood and to all that the Lord Jesus asks me to do as a Christian, then when I die I cannot demand eternal happiness from him. He does not owe me anything, but God does give it to me as a free gift. That is why whatever we do on this earth for the Lord is supposed to be done out of love for him and because he asks us to do it. Our relationship with God is meant to be one of love.
Look at the first words of the Gospel: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ ‘If you love me…’
What would you do for someone you love? Would you keep their wishes? Would you respect them? Would you keep their commandments, God’s commandments?
It is interesting too how many people have the idea that you should follow all the demands of your faith ‘in so far as it suits you’. ‘If it doesn’t suit you then ‘obviously’ you don’t do it.’ That is very much the mentality of the modern world. It is a selfish mentality, but the difficulty is this: Jesus does not tell us to follow him on our own terms, but on his terms. In other words we must try to live as he asks. They are commandments and not suggestions. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’
However, what is also vital for us to remember is this: anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also exactly what will help us to grow and blossom. So He points out the way and tells us the way we need to live. ‘If you live as I command you, you will be alright.’ Unfortunately we do not always trust God and we often think that we know better. That is why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we will often think we know better, so He tells us which path is the one to take. For our part we must trust him, even when it does not seem to make sense to us.
Our faith can certainly be pretty demanding. But any way of life well lived is demanding. If I wish to be a Catholic, and to follow the way of Jesus Christ, then this is what is expected of me. These are the demands of our faith. But while it is demanding it is not beyond us, because God gives us the strength we need to live it out and also, as it says in the Gospel, ‘The Advocate’ or Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. And that is why we need to keep coming back to be renewed by the strength which God gives us through prayer, fasting and especially through the Eucharist. God shows us what we need to do and He also gives us the strength to do it. Above all, remember that it is all given to us for our benefit, purely out of love.
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’