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Mary and Martha

Like all blogs, this one is a medium for communication – it’s distinguishing feature is that it features communication between an unusually diverse set of Christians and, as the comments boxes show, that creates its own strains. We all believe in Jesus as Saviour, but we all carry different baggage about what that means, which means sometimes we get at cross purposes. At times it seems for some that nothing less than strict adherence to every jot and tittle of what a particular church teaches will do, whilst to others that sounds terribly like obeying the letter and ignoring the Spirit – and so the arguments go to and fro. I think something like this is behind the way some of his fellow Catholics feel about the Pope – how dare he, as they see it, go off message? But then if the message is not love and forgiveness to all who seek it, then what is it?

To that the answer seems often to be ‘there is a set of rules, abide by it’ – and what then? Abiding by the ‘rules’ alone never saved a single soul; at best it might have helped prepare the soul to receive the free Grace Christ offers to all who seek him. Paul’s great passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a useful checklist. Without love we are a ‘sounding brass’, we have ‘nothing’ and we are ‘nothing’. Love bids us be ‘kind’, it bids us not to be envious and it is not self-important: it does not imitate the Pharisee who thanks God he is not like a miserable sinner like me; it bears everything – and does not play the martyr in so doing. It is more difficult for us to live up to this sort of love than it is for the camel to go through the eye of the needle. In an odd way, it is so much easier to try to live by a set of rules – even if it means quarrelling with those in your own church who don’t agree with your interpretation of them. All rules need interpretation – as do laws – were it otherwise we’d have no need for lawyers.

I was very struck by Fr Longenecker’s recent piece on Catholic Fundamentalists, as it seemed to me to reflect what happens if you try to obey all the rules and laws without the spirit of love. The good Father rightly commented:

It is pointless to ever argue with these people because they are always right. They have no true repentance in their hearts, but are driven by the worst kind of pride: spiritual pride

He made it clear this group is not to be seen as ‘traditionalists’:

We should separate the paranoid hate mongers from the rest of the traditionalists. They are not traditionalists. They are Protestant fundamentalists wearing traditionalist Catholic clothes.

It is easy enough, in fact most tempting, in our society to have the ‘fortress mentality’ – it is not as though we are not faced with threats. But our most dangerous threat can be from ourselves. Whether or not Gandhi ever said he liked Christ but not Christians, our society often reflects it. It hears us talking about the rules and preaching at it, and it shows what it thinks of us by throwing back in our faces the times we have fallen from Grace – it creates an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, distrust and, at worst, hatred. It is easy to fool ourselves that the world hates us because we are faithful to Christ and it hated him – it is more sobering to suppose we may be hated because are not actually faithful to that teaching that love is the greatest of all the Christian virtues. But have we the courage to face up to that possibility? It may be us – not them.