If You Love God, You Are a Legalist?
The new language that has crept into our Church is “legalism.” That’s right … if you are a devout Catholic, and desire to follow all of what the Church teaches, you are “extreme” … you are a “Pharisee” … you are an offensive “legalist” … you are a scary fundamentalist.
The idea, I guess, is that we will win more souls if we are wishy washy on Church teaching. Yet, that has never been the way of winning souls for any missionary, and certainly not for Christ. You win souls by inspiring others with your resolve to love God “totally.”
Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
If the Good Lord were to take me today (don’t worry, it’s just a hypothetical), I would want this to be how I was remembered: Fr. Richard Heilman was a man who fell deeply in love with God, and he knew from that moment on that his life was not his own, but that he was made to know God, to love God, and to serve God. That meant an impassioned resolve to obey God.
The new language says that I am now a “legalist,” along with every wonderfully devout Catholic I know. All of a sudden, “obedience” is a bad thing.
As a priest, I have lived my life very close to sacred scripture and I have rubbed up against passages like these many times:
- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
- “For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” 2 John 1:6
- “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John14:23
- “Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.” Deuteronomy 11:1
- He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28
- “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22
- “Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
- “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:32
Look at the great lesson we learn from the life of Mary. After wondering how she could be with child since she was a virgin, the angel assures her that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). Mary’s response of obedience brought her the very life of God within her: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). With her fiat, she is filled with the very life of God.
While those were among the first words Mary ever spoke in the bible, her “famous last words” came at the Wedding of Cana. Mary tells her Son, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Wine is symbolic of the inebriation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now come her very last words, which would turn those huge jars of tasteless water into the best of wine, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). In this new language, Mary is promoting “legalism.” Mary is a scary fundamentalist?
Day after day after day, God has demonstrated His great pleasure with my loyalty and obedience. I cannot begin to document the many times God has blessed me with each show of effort I give Him by doing all I can to make my love “real” by obeying Him. I know that this relationship is the source of my joy, and I want to do everything I can to help others know this joy too. It is not judgment when I warn others that a life lived for ourselves, rather than God, can lead to emptiness and, worse yet, eternal damnation. It is “real” love that wants them to know the joy of “truly” loving God … the evidence being this insatiable desire to obey God.
Obedience in love is legalism??? I’m sorry, but I’ll stick with my Lord and my Lady on this one.