Earlier this year I was invited to speak at a university as a part of a panel of different religions. After we briefly introduced our faith traditions, the floor was opened for questions. It didn’t take long for someone to ask me, “if the Christian faith is all about having a personal relationship with God, why does the Catholic church have so many rules and regulations?” After talking for another moment or so the student closed the question by asking “why can’t we just focus on loving each other?”
Look, our faith certainly calls us to love, after all “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved.” For you see “Christianity is not a religion of fear, but of trust and love for the Father who loves us.” Yet, love is one of those funny words that has been used in every generation and every culture and with so many different meanings, but the simplest definition of love I have ever seen is that “to love is to will the good of the other,” and when we understand love is this way, I think we begin to see why God left us with so many commandments and rules.
Jesus is very clear in today’s Gospel when He tells us “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” Certainly, our Catholic faith is much more than a collection of rules and regulations. A personal relationship with our Lord is essential, but we can’t have that personnel relationship with Him if we don’t love Him. Since every loving relationship must be defined, Jesus defines our relationship by telling us we love Him by keeping His commandments. You see a relationship with Jesus doesn’t dispense with the rules, but rather those rules help to define the relationship and our obedience to them is the clearest indicator of our love for God.
I dare say, the many rules and obligations of our Catholic faith only make sense when we view them in the context of this loving relationship with God. I learned this firsthand in my first year in the seminary. I entered the seminary with the head knowledge that God loved me, but it wasn’t until I began to spend serious time in prayer every day that my heart began to learn that God truly loved me. As my heart began to accept God’s love for me, I began to realize that true love wills the best for the other. This insight radically changed my entire view of the reason for the Church’s rules because I began to truly understand that God created me, He loves me, and so 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 fallen desires. This insight helped me to see that God’s no is not a rejection, but rather a redirection. Jesus’ commands and the teachings of the Church are not intended to hold us back, but rather to set us free. For you see our world is searching for love, but we constantly attach ourselves to false love and leave disappointed.
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? You see “sin does not pay … it never keeps its promise.” Is it not true that “the root of all our unhappiness is the result of sin and its effects. The sooner we are free from the distortions and crippling’s of sin, the sooner we will experience fuller joy and freedom as sons and daughters of God and be able more and more to be a blessing to others.” Any of us who have successfully rooted out a habit of sin in our lives knows that evicting sin from our life is hard, but with God’s grace after exorcising that sin we are much more free.
My friends, the love of Christ leads to freedom. He teaches us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. So, when we look at the cross, the place from which He lived out His teaching, we see that Jesus extend his hands to lead us from the slavery of sin to the freedom of His love. That total love of Christ though demands a response and any of us who love, know that “love does not exist in words or feelings but in deeds.” Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel that we are His friends if we keep His commands, that we remain in His love if we follow His teachings.
You see then “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.” So then, you see it is enough to love, but true love demands that we keep His commandments. Christ, in His love for us, offers us the commandments and the teachings of the Church to show us how to truly love and any choice to ignore those teachings is a choice to reject love. Yet love cannot be forced and so the Church continues to uphold the commands of Christ, whether popular or not, and invites each of us to the freedom of Christ’s love by keeping His commandments. So, what’s your choice; will you love as Jesus tells us to love by living out His commandments or will you try to love in your own way, a way that leads only to slavery?
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 129.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II,26 4, corp. art.
 John 14:15
 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.
 St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). Pg 175.
 Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco. Biomedicine and Beatitude. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press. (2011) Pg. 10