Friday, June 18, 2010

Rules, the Catholic Church, Neighbors and Me

Yesterday, I wrote: "As a Catholic, there are things I must do." (June 17, 2010)

The first draft of that sentence ended with "things I must not do." In context, the meaning of the sentence was almost - but not quite - the same.

Christianity, Culture, and Me

That "must not" phrase came, I think, at least in part from my cultural background. I'm an American, born toward the end of the Truman administration. I was brought up in a nice, Christian, mainstream Protestant home. From the culture - not so much from the church my parents went to - I learned that religion, Christianity in particular, had a lot of 'thou shalt nots.'

In the case of some groups, there's something to that assertion. When I was growing up, the noisier little denominations were very definite about what 'good Christians' mustn't do. Some were convinced that drinking led straight to Hell, others said it was smoking: and most were agreed that gambling was the work of the Devil.

So, I joined a church that has Bingo fundraisers. Actually, I didn't become a Catholic so that I could play Bingo - that's another story.

This Catholic and Rules

It's possible to describe the rules of the Catholic Church (we've got books full of them) in terms of 'don't do this,' and 'don't do that.' For example, I'm forbidden to kill myself. (January 28, 2009) Talk about being oppressed? Or, not.

Turn the same set of rules around, and I'm commanded to maintain my health, and live.

I've discovered that the rules of the Catholic Church - coming from the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium (look it up) - are things I'm supposed to do and be: not a list of actions to shun.

And, boiled down to essentials, there's only one rule. Or maybe it's two: Love God and your neighbor. That's not my idea, by the way:
"27 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust...."
(Matthew 5:43-44)

"5 One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, 'Which is the first of all the commandments?' Jesus replied, 'The first is this: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' "
(Mark 12:28-31)

"10 There was a scholar of the law 11 who stood up to test him and said, 'Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'What is written in the law? How do you read it?' He said in reply, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' He replied to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.' But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied, 'A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead....'..."
(Luke 10:25-30)
(You may know the rest of that story: it's the one about the good Samaritan.)
I particularly like that passage out of Mark. An expert comes up to Jesus and asks him for one rule: "the first of all the commandments." Jesus gives him the first: and the second.

"And who is my neighbor?"

Before I get back to the story of the good Samaritan, a sort of disclaimer: I speak with the full authority of some guy with a blog. I'm a Catholic layman. Moving along.

In Luke, a legal expert had asked Jesus what he had to do, to inherit eternal life. Jesus encouraged him to recall the most important commandments - which include loving one's neighbor. Then the expert asked 'who's my neighbor?' Back to Luke. Samaritans and Israelites didn't get along all that well, remember:
"Jesus replied, 'A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. 12 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, "Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back." Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?' He answered, 'The one who treated him with mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.' "
(Luke 10:31-37)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses neighbors quite a lot, including this bit:
"Christ died out of love for us, while we were still 'enemies.'100 The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.101
"The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: 'charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.'102"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church (1825)I've written before, that things get complicated when human beings are involved. But that's mostly in the nuts-and-bolts detail. Jesus boiled what we're supposed to do down to a couple of fairly simple, easy-to-understand instructions: Love God and love my neighbor.

And that everybody's my neighbor.

I said 'simple,' not 'easy.'

But, getting back to where I started in this post: The way I see it, the Catholic Church isn't telling me what I can't do so much as what I must do.

Loving God? That's not so hard - although I don't show it as well as I should.

Loving my neighbor? The folks here in my neighborhood: that's easy. We get along okay. Everybody else? That's where it gets interesting.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.