True Catholicism Is a Pursuit of Wisdom not Conformity to Rules
First rule of Catholicism: If you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ you cannot meet the demands of the path He wants you to follow.
Second rule of Catholicism: If someone else does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ he or she cannot meet the demands of the path He wants them to follow.
Third rule of Catholicism: If you are Catholic and do not understand rules one and two remain silent.
If there is one thing I teach almost every week, it is that Catholicism is not a system of morality, period. It is a pursuit of divine wisdom through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the wisdom that leads us to the morality.
If you want to alienate people, make sure you forget those rules above and preach living a moral life as the guarantee they will get into Heaven. Make sure you only talk about morality, especially focus on castigating those who live lives outside of our standard of morality.
I get frustrated by the overwhelming amount of material that focuses on sin without ever mentioning prayer or a relationship with Jesus Christ. I should not get too frustrated though because it gives me a lot to address in my independent Catholic media work.
Jesus taught wisdom not morals
Let’s go back to the Gospels. People recite the teachings of Jesus like they recite civil laws and penalties. For example, a common sentence is that Jesus spoke more about Hell than Heaven. Usually that is a reminder to turn from sin so that you do not go to Hell. They always forget the context. Jesus addressed those who were looking for more than what they found in their current situation. They were all sinners because it was to them He spoke. He invited them to a relationship with the Father whom He called in familiar terms Abba.
The pharisees understood the rules and they often cited them to silence Jesus and create opposition to Him. Jesus did not cite rules as much as He taught a wisdom that leads to a deeper understanding of the definition of a human being. He taught how to put that wisdom into action and, therefore, change one’s outlook and point of view.
Let me give you an example:
The rules position: “It is a sin to sell drugs, yet people do it anyway and believe falsely that they will not suffer the wrath of God.”
Jesus taught: “Where your treasure is there your heart is also.” Now what is it that you treasure more than anything else. That is the center of your life. If your whole life is on money so much so that you will even risk killing someone with your poisonous product then that is where your treasure is and that is what defines you.
Jesus met people where they were. Even if someone was a great sinner because those are the people most receptive to
his wisdom who feel alienated from the rule book. He does not require people to change first. Instead, he takes their present situation and uses it to help them understand who His Father created them to be and how much they may be beyond what they imagine. That leads them to change because they want to change not because they must change.
To whom shall we go
When Jesus talked about how one had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life (John 6) five thousand people walked away. Twelve remained. They stayed because they wanted what he promised — eternal life. That was where their treasure was — at least eleven of them. Peter in fact said to Jesus: “To whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life.”
When we encounter someone we enjoy in our lives, we will change our ways and they will change theirs to deepen that relationship. Mavericks who live their own life and cast others aside who stand in their way boast of their willingness to remain true to their unchanged selves, they usually die alone with no friends.
Jesus’ followers become fascinated by his words. You can imagine them not being able to stop talking about him and the power of his teaching when they went home. After all, He did not just preach, he started a movement that exists to this day.
Teaching wisdom defeats condemning faults
We see that exact scenario in the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1–26) who is on her sixth live-in boyfriend. Jesus goes to meet her and begins to teach his wisdom breaking every cultural convention at the time. Her encounter with Him leads her to change out of her desire to find what he promises. In fact, as much as Jesus talked about Hell, he never mentions it in this conversation.
Compare that with the pharisees who would have condemned her if they were there in the first place. They understood the rules and the right behavior to follow and demanded it of others. They condemned others by their behavior, for example crossing the street when a “sinner” came the other way. Jesus greeted the sinner because he was about changing their whole understanding of who they were as human beings.
The laws made for humanity not humanity for the laws
The line between the actions of Jesus and those of the pharisees lies in how they defined orthodoxy. The pharisees defined it by living the laws and Jesus defined it by that interpersonal connection that changed the listeners’ whole understanding of the world around them. He criticized the pharisees style as dehumanizing and he encouraged a way of understanding the traditions to lead people to become more human. He wanted to free them from tyranny of lifeless laws and help them embody the wisdom behind them. He taught that the laws were made for the community and not the community for the laws. He understood that people could not live the rules on their own. That is the reason why he came to live the law perfectly and free all humanity from the burden of the law which requires perfect submission or eternal punishment.
One of the points I always teach my parishioners you can read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2098: “Prayer is an indispensable condition for being able to obey God’s commandments.”
If one is not praying that one cannot be expected to obey the commandments. Go back to my two rules above. I get angry and heartsick over the people who feel oppressed by Christians citing rules. They are people who do not go to Church because they feel unwanted just like the Samaritan woman felt the same. She was oppressed by the dry manifestation of the laws, rebelled against them and suffered castigation. Jesus goes to encounter her and without changing any of the rules, He presents a new understanding. This changes her life so much that she becomes a powerful source of His teaching.
There are Catholic and other Christian preachers who teach lifeless rules and moralize all the time but they never teach anyone to encounter Christ on a personal level. Instead they tell people to follow the rules or go to Hell.
Jesus instead embodied the rules and the worst of all sinners discovered them anew and changed their lives out of desire not out of duress.
If we are not living those rules above then we have no business teaching anything about the Catholic faith at all. Everything in Catholicism is based on the above rules. In fact, that is the whole message of paragraph 2098. If you do not have a prayer life, then living the commandments is just not possible. Translation: Don’t quote me any rules if you have not taught me how to pray.
“And let each one be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of humanity works not the justice of God.” James 1:19b-20