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Father Vincent Hawkswell

The Lord gives us laws because he loves us

Voices Dec. 15, 2017

A mother warns her child not to touch a hot stove not to restrict his freedom but because it's in his best interests, writes Father Hawkswell.

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B
First Reading: Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Second Reading: 1 Thes 5:16-24
Gospel Reading: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

The Entrance Antiphon gives the theme of this Sunday’s liturgy: rejoice, for the Lord is near. (This Sunday used to be called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin for “rejoice.”)

Unfortunately, many people do not rejoice, for they see God as a tyrant who forbids them to enjoy life fully. Pope Benedict XVI described this way of thinking in his homily Dec. 8, 2005, marking the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.

We do not trust God, he said. We think of him as “a rival who curtails our freedom.” To become fully human, we think, we must cast him aside. We do not want to depend on him for the good things of life, but to take our own lives “autonomously in hand.”

On the contrary, the Pope said: only if we live “in the right way” can freedom develop. Living “in the right way” means living “in accordance with the truth of our being: that is, in accordance with God’s will.” God’s will is not a law imposed arbitrarily from the outside, but “the intrinsic measure” of our nature. If we act in opposition to God, we live in opposition to truth and love, against our own best interests.

As an analogy, imagine a man who has invented a razor. He explains to others how to use it and what to use it for, but they turn away; his rules limit their autonomy, they complain. Instead, they claim the freedom to emancipate the razor from its old humdrum task of shaving and to use it for cutting wood. As a result, they end up with a piece of twisted metal fit only for the scrap-heap.

God is our maker. His laws for us are the maker’s instructions: directions for our well-being and prohibitions against wrong ways of treating ourselves and our neighbours.

When God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was giving them a warning: humans are not self-existent, but dependent on their creator. The tree symbolizes “the insurmountable limits that man ... must freely recognize and respect with trust,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

As another analogy, imagine a mother warning her child not to touch the stove because it is hot. The child cannot know what “hot” means; he has to trust his mother and accept this “insurmountable” limitation on his freedom. If he persists in finding out for himself, he will injure himself. Moreover, he will conceive a distorted image of his mother and her commands.

That is precisely what happened to Adam and Eve. However, God promised to restore their original nature.

“I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah,” he said. “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.”

Jesus Christ, God made Man for us, kept that law perfectly throughout his life on earth. Before he returned to his father, he founded his Church to instruct us in that law until the end of the world. By listening to the Church, we can know with certainty what we should and should not do to achieve our maker’s purpose: namely our enjoyment of complete, untiring, and unending bliss in the loving communion of the Holy Trinity.

Obedience to the Church, then, constitutes the highest use of our reason, like the decision of a child to obey his mother and avoid the hot stove. It is the fullest expression of ourselves, like the use of a razor for shaving and not for cutting wood. Insofar as we try to emancipate ourselves from Christ and his Church, we become less of a person.

In the weeks before Christmas, let us “make straight the way of the Lord,” as John the Baptist urged, by going to confession. Then we can welcome God with joy.