“It’s my Catholic duty to support the Church.” “It is my obligation as a Catholic to attend Mass on Sunday.” “I am obligated as a Christian to be nice to others.” These phrases and others like them are a reminder that living our Catholic faith is often looked at as carrying out a series of duties and fulfilling a list of obligations.
While living our faith carries with it the requirement to live according to values of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, it begins with our relationship with Jesus. This relationship starts with a declaration of love, not a set of requirements. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I also love you. Remain in my love (John 15:9-17).” Jesus’ words mean that we are part of a beautiful chain of love…the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the disciples, the disciples loving each other. Our love is to flow from this chain, not as an obligation but as an opportunity.
In our human relationships, if we respond to our friends and those we say we love out of a sense of obligation, duty or guilt, the relationship is headed toward resentment and bitterness. It we spend time with someone because we “owe” it to them or because we are afraid they will be hurt if we do not, we will grow to resent that person. The same thing can happen with God. If living our faith becomes mostly fulfilling obligations and duties, the joy will be drained out of our experience.
The desire of Jesus is for us to live our faith with the profound joy of knowing that he calls us friends and loves us just because he does. His command to love is not a command after all. It is an invitation by a friend to a whole way of life that brings us life and gives life to others. Jesus says he does not call us slaves but calls us friends. Friends do not impose duties on each other. Friends invite each other to share in the love and life they have to offer each other. As disciples of Jesus, the choice is ours. To be a slave to duty or a loving friend of the Lord himself. I am going for the friendship. How about you?
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, Rector