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 angry, because they feel that God has let them down, or even betrayed them. 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?’ They are basically thinking, ‘God owes 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. This is also one of the effects of Original Sin. We are suspicious of God and not convinced that He is good. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong and only to thank and praise him for the things that suit us.
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 offer 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 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 the mentality of the modern world and it is a selfish mentality. We are constantly told that we don’t owe anything to anyone and we shouldn’t have to do anything unless it suits us. The idea of sacrifice is not part of the thinking of our world. 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, we must also remember that anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also what will help us to grow and blossom. He knows the path we need to follow, which will lead us to happiness. 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 also why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we 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 demanding, but any way of life worth living 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. He gives us ‘The Advocate’ or Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. The Spirit empowers us to live as God asks us to. Think of the Apostles when they received the Spirit. They were completely transformed and the Spirit took away all their fear. From then on they were able to preach with power and authority, because God had given them the strength they needed.
It says in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles continually prayed with people so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit, what we call Confirmation. The Lord gives us everything we need to live as He asks, so we can never say that it was too much for us.
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.’