Perhaps you have family members or friends that are in a similar boat to me. Most of my friends are at the point in their life where they are getting married or are having their first children and for once they are being forced to confront for themselves the many questions of faith. Most of my friends grew up Catholic but slowly through college and young adulthood drifted away from the Catholic Church. But now as they find themselves making important life decisions like who am I going to marry and should I have my child baptized the idea of God is beginning to come back into their minds. Yet sadly, for as much as they now claim to be spiritual many of them don’t want anything to do with organized religion. As I press them on their beliefs they claim to love other people and they are comfortable having a relationship with God outside of religion. When I press a little bit further we seem to eventually come to a point where they say the Church has too many rules and it’s just easier for them to focus on loving everyone. Certainly our faith calls us to love, after all “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved.” But you see, those rules and obligations are there to help shape us to help shape and mold us so that we can love. For you see “Christianity is not a religion of fear, but of trust and love for the Father who loves us.” In fact, when we really understand what love is we begin to see the Church has so many laws and rules.
As I’ve thought about this question with my friends over and over again, I still have one question that can’t be answered. Where did we get the idea that we could do religion on our own? When did we wake up and discover that we are good enough on our own, that we don’t need a community or our Church to help us form that relationship with Christ? If that’s our view, the prophet Jeremiah has a strong warning for us in today’s first reading. He tells us “cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh.”
You see what happens when you run away from religion and what I see in my friends is that they are seriously working to try and figure there spiritual way out, but the pressure is now all on them. It’s a huge burden for them to be spiritual but not religious. The challenge for us is to not try to run from the rules and have religion on our own terms but rather to place our hope in the Lord because as the psalmist reminds us “blessed are they who hope in the lord.”
If today’s Gospel teaches us anything it shows us that God’s ways are not always our ways. We all know the beatitudes and when we hear them they should be a little unsettling to us. If we are honest I think we have the admit the beatitudes are probably not our way. God’s ways are not our ways, but St. Paul rightly reminds us that Jesus is the one who found true fulfillment in rising from the dead so if we also want that fulfillment. It’s not about our ways. Perhaps we have to at times step back and realize our ways aren’t really so good.
As I’ve had this conversation with my friend I’ve been trying to find some common ground. The only common ground I can find is that I realize each and every one of us, regardless of our beliefs I think all of us can agree that we want blessedness, that we want to be fulfilled. You see then, Jesus’ commands and the teachings of the Church are that paths to happiness. They are not intended to hold us back, but rather to set us free. He wants us to be blessed. He wants us to have fulfillment but the problem is we often try to do it on our own. Jesus never intends to hold us back. He comes to set us free. It’s our own sin that holds us back.
Just think about the habits of sin in your life. Perhaps they bring some kind of passing pleasure, but when over and done with don’t they only enslave us? “Sin does not pay … it never keeps its promise.” Ultimately sin our life is some attempt to find fulfillment, but it’s us looking in the wrong place. You see, the “Christian morality is not a life of commands, obligations, or prohibitions. Rather it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father.” The teachings of the Church are there to help us achieve this fulfillment that Christ extends to us in today’s Gospel. Ultimately it’s a question of trust. Do we believe Jesus when he lays out the path to blessedness in today’s Gospel or would we rather try and do it ourselves?
Do I trust that God really loves me? It’s a simple question that we really want to say well of course I do, but I’ll ask it again. Do I really trust that God really loves me? For you see if we believe God loves us then the only thing that makes sense is to let him take control. If God loves me, He only wants what is best for me, and as my creator, He knows what is best for me so the only logical choice is to humbly submit to His will; to place His perfect teachings above my own fallen desires. God’s no’s are not a rejection, but rather a redirection. The teachings of the Church are not intended to hold us back but rather to set us free. The happiest people I know in this world are the holiest people I know. I have some friends who have made all kinds of money and have achieved fame, but deep down they are unfulfilled, but I also know very holy people, who by worldly standards have accomplished very little, but deep down they are truly fulfilled.
Friends, Jesus wants us to be blessed and He shows us how to find true fulfillment. Jesus gives us this path in the teachings of the Church why then would we want to try to figure it out on our own? Perhaps then the question is simple. Do I truly believe Christ when He tells me how to be blessed or not?
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press (2011). Pg 129.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prayer. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor (2013). Pg 201.
 Fulton Sheen. Characters of the Passion. Liguori: Liguori Press (1998). Pg. 18
 Ralph Martin. The Fulfillment of All Desire. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing. (2006). Pg. 352.