Before reading this post, please watch this short, humorous video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_0fyUYB3cA
This video shows an old basketball player swatting away at ordinary citizens’ items being thrown in mid-air. He laughs and mutters “Not in my house”, “No no no”, and “Not today” as he rejects the inanimate objects. It’s hard not to notice the joy he seems to be getting out of denying the airborne objects as the people just try to go about their daily routine. It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but that’s not too far off from what many people perceive the Catholic Church to be: A retired basketball player going around, swatting away at people’s rights. “Abortions? No no no!” “Birth control? Not today!” “Gay marriage? Not in my house!”
These teachings of the Catholic Church are often looked at in a negative light. Those outside the Catholic faith, and even those who practice the faith, often see some of the Church’s teachings as harsh, complicated, strict, old-fashioned, oppressing. They see the Catholic Church as an institution that gets it’s satisfaction by enforcing rules that restrict people from having the freedom to choose certain things. “No no no! Not in my house!” Today, I want to try to introduce you to an alternative perspective on this concept. I may or may not be able to change your mind on your negative perception towards the Church, but I hope to at least show you this concept in a way you may have never thought of before. (Note: I won’t be going into legality issues in this post; I’ll simply talk about the foundation for such teachings.)
We need a brief (possibly a bit boring, but stay with me) history lesson before we can get to the main idea here. If you go all the way back to the book of Exodus in the Bible, you’ll read about the story of Moses leaving the slavery of Egypt and leading his people to the Holy Land of Jerusalem. Along the way, God gives Moses laws to help establish a framework of living for this new land. Among these laws are the famous Ten Commandments, as well as almost a whole book of the Bible-worth (book of Leviticus) of other specific rules that the Israelites must follow.
Fast forward now to the time of Jesus. As Jesus begins teaching in Jerusalem, there are two religious groups that he comes in contact with: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were rich and powerful businessmen and chief priests who kept the laws of Moses and were opposed to any type of change in Jewish life. Pharisees were a group of people who followed the laws of Moses, but added their own laws as well. Though the two religious groups did not agree with each other on some teachings, they both were strict in enforcing their laws and both opposed Jesus Christ’s teachings.
(Matthew 22) As Jesus shares some parables with a group of Jews in a temple court, some of the local elders and chief priests try to challenge him with questions about “paying taxes to Caesar” and “marriage at the resurrection”. After noticing that Jesus was silencing many of these challengers, some Pharisees came back and tried to get the answer to a question that would help them see which of the two groups, the Pharisees or Sadducees, were right. “Teacher,” one asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s that simple, yet so beautifully complex.
The greatest “Law”, according to Jesus, is to love God and love others. On the surface, that seems simple enough. Love God and love others. But if we really understood what it meant to love God instead of just liking him as a friend, to love one another instead of just sort of putting up with each other, we’d see the true purpose behind these teachings of the Catholic Church.
These “no’s” that the Church enforces are not so much a “no” as they are a “yes” to a greater calling to love. The Ten Commandments are not rules to keep us bogged down and feeling guilty when we screw up, but are more like a self-help book by God, titled “How to Grow in a Loving Relationship with Me in Ten Steps”. These “restrictions” are necessary, but should not be confused with the classic imagery of a nun smacking a student with a ruler. With many Church teachings, these “rules” can seem like the basketball player saying “No no no”, “Not in my house”, “Not today”. But if you look at it from a different perspective, understand where the Church is coming from, you can see that it all comes down to the fact that these teachings are meant to revolve around the concept of loving God and loving each other.