Seven petitions. Eight Beatitudes. Ten Commandments. Fourteen works of mercy. Forty days of Advent. Had enough? Twelve articles of the Creed, seventy three books of the Bible, eight hundred and twenty six page Catechism Of the Catholic Church. Then there’s Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae….Sounds like following Jesus is more complicated than chemical engineering.
Easier to just say He’s “my personal Lord and Saviour” and then I’m saved. Now, I just have to pick from one of over 20,000 denominations… but how will I know which one is the one? Other than protesting the same church, they all interpret writings differently. Perhaps non-denominational is the way. The non-denominators however, still denominate practices and beliefs. Without a hierarchy and tradition to hold me accountable, then I’d really just be following my own rules, and since I know I’m not God, that can’t be it either.
I heard someone narrowed it to three Jewels, four Noble Truths, eightfold paths, twelve Nidanas, and about two hundred and twenty seven offences in the Patimokkha. Maybe Allah and a prophet named Muhammad is simpler. Five pillars, one hundred and fourteen Surahs to memorize (in Arabic ideally), seven thousand five hundred sixty three hadiths in Bukhari alone, and…. sharia law. This religion business is way too hard. Maybe it’s not for me, with all these rules and all. Let’s just go secular.
From now on, my life will be fulfilled with driving anywhere i want, playing hockey, and go fishing. Twelve different classes of licenses, nearly one hundred road signs… maybe it’s better to let the government transport me around. On to hockey. Two hundred and twenty six pages divided into ten sections worth of rules according to latest NHL guide. At least it’s a bit easier with fishing: the 2022 Fishing Ontario – Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary is only one hundred and fifty two pages!
Then you have “self-regulatory organizations” that provide sixty-nine pages of rules, another set on policies, and yet another for By-Laws, so that along with completing certain courses annually, its members can ask consumers seven questions and land on one of six profiles.
Friends, we accept rules in all facets of our lives, which is why it always amazes me when you hear someone say the Church has too many rules.
Too many rules can indeed stifle creativity, slow economic activity, and limit freedom, but too few rules can have the same effect. No rules equals chaos, and history has taught us well that anarchy always leads to violence. Without a framework of truth, everything goes. Fr. Longenecker in his blog “Relativism, Irrational Rage and Revolution” stated the following which summarizes the issue: “The result of this combination of sentimentality, utilitarianism and propaganda will be irrationality. People will have a very loose grasp of knowledge, will not be able to synthesize information in any coherent way and will paddle around in a shallow pool of emotion, social media opinion, half formed ideas and notions–all of which are coming at them from a whole range of sources of varying authenticity and evidence. So a person’s ideas and emotions will be formed from a mishmash of video games, comics, a philosophy course, a book on self help, a chat show about self awareness, greeting cards, horror films, yesterday’s news and a story their grandpa told them once.”
At a simpler level, imagine playing hockey or football without rules. If there’s no rules, then there’s also no need for referees. Might be fun for about two minutes, until the first high stick or low tackle comes in, and then all hell breaks loose. Driving through intersections at one’s preferred speed, with no lights, no stop signs, and no roundabouts sounds like a dream… until one gets awaken by a truck smashing into our side door! Ok maybe in Canada everyone would stop and wait for the other vehicle to go through, followed by the geese, but anywhere else, it would be a death sentence.
Speaking of life and death, this is the “business” the Church is in. We accept 226 pages of rules to hit a piece of rubber with a stick, 152 pages to catch a fish, yet are reluctant to learn and follow rules regarding life? Even Jordan Peterson needed two books to articulate just twenty four rules, and he didn’t cover eternal life!
To say religion is just rules, is like saying mathematics is just numbers, science is just experiments, or literature is just letters. The world would be very different indeed without Father George Lemaitre’s equations (Big Bang theory), Sister Miriam Stimson’s KBr disk method (shape of DNA), or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In reference to a religion with no demands, without rules, C.S. Lewis had in his book Screwtape Letters, a character state, “A moderated religion is as good as no religion at all – and more amusing.”. That character was the devil.
The choice is also not hedonism or puritanism, faith or science, capitalism or communism, all religions or no religion, church or state, rules or freedom. In the same way it is not Old or New Testament, Scriptures or Tradition, Jews or Gentiles, full Divinity or full humanity. What is it then? When we see a sculpture, we naturally assume a sculptor. When we listen to a symphony, we assume a composer. Likewise, when we observe creation, we assume a creator. The intelligibility we find in the natural world, leads us to conclude there must be an intelligence. We call this intelligence God.
Now, “God” can mean many things to different people, such as a primordial force or a slave-master, but what if He had given us not one, not five, not ten, not fifty, but over one hundred clues about some One who was to come, and it happened? And was if that some One is a person that not only foretold His death, but more importantly and uniquely in the history of the world, foretold His own Resurrection with precision? Well, if that was the case, then our choice boils to just one decision: Jesus or everything else.
In choosing Christ, we find the unity of all truth, goodness and beauty, and so we can confidently say Old and New Testament, Jews and Gentiles, Scriptures and Tradition, faith and science, individual merit and common good, freedom and responsibility. His rules are not impositions but gifts for our own well-being so that we can enjoy life to the fullest, the same way rules allows one to enjoy a great sport or grammar allows us to enjoy the classics.
So next time someone tells you there are too many rules in the Church, ask them if they can handle one Creed, one prayer, and two Commandments. If they say yes, let them know it comes with seven types of celebrations (Sacraments) and at least twelve feasts. God did not promise us rules after all, He promised us JOY! (Jn 15:11)
St Joseph: Pray for us.
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