St. Paul was not happy with the Galatians who seemed to fall into the trap of blindly following the Law. Christ transformed the observance of the Law by breathing the Spirit in the church, so that the church becomes a pilgrim people on a journey shaped by that same Spirit. The Spirit moves the people, the church, in each generation, so that the church can discover new ways of spreading the Gospel. Laws, rules and disciplines are meant to shape and anchor the missionary activity of the church, making it faithful to its very purpose: to move into the world expressing truths in new ways.
The Spirit wants to inspirethe church and its leaders to be creative in the ministries of teaching and preaching. But too often, the “Law” we call “canon law” becomes overly sacrosanct and we fall into the trap of following the letter of the this Law. Some bishops seem overly concerned about the many canons and their applications. How is this any different from Jesus forsaking following the Law in certain circumstances? Are our bishops any different from the Pharisees in the time of Jesus? There is the attitude that says if one transgresses a particular canon, one cannot be a faithful catholic. Paul even reprimanded peter for such an attitude in his letter to the Galatians, which is being proclaimed at daily Mass this week. Yes, even Peter, the first Pope, needed reprimanding.
The problem with the “law” is that it can become or develop into a closed system of who is in and who is out; who is saved and who is not. Following the law and its letter will never save us, only the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Religion of strict adherence to the law is dangerous indeed, especially when this ideology is rooted in human beings who hold positions of authority. This way of leading a people always becomes harsh and rigid.
The priest at the pilgrim’s last night the mass made it clear: if you’re not catholic, don’t receive Holy Communion. Certainly, canon law and the tradition of the Church were being followed and the priest faithful and orthodox. But at what price? The authority of the church will be compromised and weakened when the strict observance of the law suffocates the Spirit. The Church must find a balance between being faithful to essential Truths which can never change and allowing renewal and development in how these are expressed.
Buen camino. Fr. Frank