Do We Live for the Rules or Allow the Rules to Lead us to Freedom & Joy

I’ve been around for a couple of conversations in my life where this Gospel passage was used to refute the “ridiculous” practice of fasting and abstinence especially the tradition for us as Catholics of abstaining from meat on Fridays.  I’m quite sure that Jesus would be appalled to know that this is the way His Gospel was being interpreted at all.  We live in a Catholic culture where many things have remained unresolved for quite some time.  A classic misinterpretation of Church teaching is that somehow the Church “did away” with these laws on fasting and abstinence when nothing of the sort happened along the way, neither did the Law become more relaxed.  The Church implored us all to consider our attitudes towards fasting and abstinence.  What the Church reasserted was Jesus’ directive, the directive He gives us here today.  In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis early in his writing talks about Christians “whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”.  However Fridays remain throughout all of the year, and more focussed and intensely penitential days – days when we abstain and fast at times to remind ourselves of all our faith is about.  We sacrifice at time, we live always in gratitude and for the glory of God; we are called to live the Gospel in joy.  We respect, adhere and follow the rules because with ardent faith, with hope and trust we recognize that our rules help us grow closer day by day to God – not because they are an end unto themselves.  When we strictly and harshly point out others shortcomings and are highly critical of “rule-breakers” how little mercy we show.  When we do that, we are reminded that the Lord requires mercy and mercy ought to always trump sacrifice.  This is how we live as joyful Christians, but joyful Christians live and love their brothers and sisters, holding a very high standard for themselves with a deeper understanding of the “sacrifice” that itself gives way to joy; and through their loving kindness and well-lived life rather than harsh criticism set an example for their brothers and sisters.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” says the Lord.

I Desire Mercy Not Sacrifice

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