Once George Weigel was asked which books have had the biggest effect on his thinking. One book he mentioned was The Sources of Christian Ethics by Fr Servais Pinckaers, O.P. He then went on to explain why it was such an important book for him: because it roots the Christian life not in a series of rules to be kept (or broken or minimized or explained away), but in the invitation from God to beatitude, to happiness beginning already in this life, with rules serving as a help toward this goal. Pinckaers shows how in the classical Christian Tradition founded on Jesus Christ Himself, rules are never an end in themselves, to be kept because, “Well, God told us to do it, so we better do it.” No! According to the Blessed Trinity’s view of reality, rules are always in the service of our beatitude, our happiness, our full-communion, conflict-free relationships with others. If they don’t help make us happier in that way, then they are not from God.
When we look at today’s First Reading we could easily hear it as supporting the ‘rules’ approach to life. But notice how at the end of that Reading, before Moses praises the Law and how just it is, he marvels at how close Israel’s relationship with God is: “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” If we miss that primary emphasis on the relationship, we can easily end up in the camp of those Pharisees in the Gospel who are keeping all the ceremonials laws and yet breaking the moral law, and thus earning a tough love rebuke from Jesus: “You hypocrites…hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
But a person could object, “Even if Jesus does away with some Jewish ceremonial laws, He still upholds the moral law and moral rules as something good, and breaking them is something that makes you impure and defiled! Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery and greed are really bad and keep us from the happiness of Heaven. So we absolutely better keep those rules!!!”
Yes, but keeping the moral law as an end in itself is not the main point. Happiness is the main point and the keeping of the moral law is a means towards that end. And happiness is inseparable from a deep communion with another person. In his theology of the body addresses St John Paul II speaks of the “peace of the interior gaze,” of trusting another so deeply that I open myself totally to another person and let that person see all the way into the me, my heart, my whole self. When this interior gaze becomes mutual, each person making a free gift of self to the other as Pope Saint John Paul II puts it (Gaudium et Spes 24) the gaze creates an amazing bond of true intimacy that brings happiness, the beginning of Heaven. So we can say that intimacy with another is the true goal in life, especially intimacy with those Three Persons Who created us! When we have a mutually loving relationship with the Trinity, only then do we have the Holy Spirit-power to keep the moral rules.
A good working definition of intimacy is, as Christopher West puts it: into-me-see. Do you have someone whom you trust enough to let that person see into you…ALL of you? Even if you don’t, there is Someone coming to you in Holy Communion today Who desires you so much that He gave and gives all of Himself just for you. And this same Person is inviting you to see all the way into Him and His Sacred Heart. Yes, that can be very scary, but if you ask His Holy Spirit, He will help you right now. Would you like that?
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Fr. Thomas Koller, OCD, is a Carmelite friar and priest of the Discalced Carmelite Province of California. He has a Licentiate degree in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and is a seminary formator and professor of Scripture at Mount Angel Seminary in Mt Angel, Oregon. Fr. Thomas has attended some courses at TOBI.