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Balancing love and law

Balancing love and law

Sacred Space by Br John Vernard FMS

DURING my life there have been changes in the Church, some of them insignificant but others have made a big difference to my understanding of the life God has blessed me with.

Where before I was obsessed with following the law that was promulgated by others I now study the teachings of Jesus and make decisions applicable to my situation in life, in modern jargon: “the buck stops with me”.

This has given me a freedom, a joy of living, a rewarding relationship with our great God, with Jesus and his mother Mary.

This is sometimes negated by reports of evils in the world and there are parts I don’t understand.

My solution is not to let negatives control my life but to reflect on positive things which show God’s providence present in our world.

The “pray, pay and obey” tag previously used to describe Catholics certainly fitted me, and my spiritual life lacked conviction and joy.

I was hemmed in by legalism where learning and keeping hundreds of laws based on fear, was all that mattered.

The revelation special for me was to live aware of God’s presence in my life and to help me sort out the relationship between law and God’s love and then share this with others.

This story from New York City of all places brought a tear to my eye.

There was a colourful mayor who was greatly loved by his people because he was one of them.

He would ride on fire engines, help police keep order, walk the streets, take entire orphanages to baseball games and read the Sunday comics over the radio when newspapers went on strike.

Once he turned up at a night court in the poorest ward and told the judge he would take over the bench.

The first case was a tattered old woman, accused by a shopkeeper of stealing bread.

She explained to the judge that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, the daughter was now sick and her grandchildren were starving.

But the shopkeeper insisted that she had stolen the bread and he refused to drop the charges.

“It’s a bad neighbourhood, your Honour,” the man insisted, “She has got to be punished to teach the other people around here a lesson.”

The judge turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you, the law makes no exceptions. Pay ten dollars or do time in jail.”

But even as he spoke he was reaching into his pocket pulling out ten dollars, which he tossed into his hat in front of the woman.

“That’s for the ten-dollar fine which I now remit.”

Then in a loud voice he addressed the court: “Furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom one dollar for living in a city where a grandmother has to steal bread to feed her children.

“Mr Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

And so it happened that petty criminals, traffic offenders, policemen, lawyers, reporters and even the red-faced grocery store owner donated a dollar to the fund.

As the bailiff handed over just on 80 dollars to the bewildered old lady the whole court erupted into a standing ovation.

I believe the mayor gave us an example of what Jesus thought about law in his Church – important but not absolute, people come first.

Cut the coat to fit the person. Don’t cut the person to fit the coat.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … and your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Written by: The Catholic Leader

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