Breaking the Rules

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Reflection on The Word –

September 2, 2012

Rules.   Some love them for providing structure almost as much as others abhor them for exactly that reason, and from time to time we all struggle with the rules of other people, government, or church.  Each of today’s readings touches in some way on rules, providing us with a reminder of the need to understand in our hearts what lies at the center.   In today’s gospel reading from Mark, the Pharisees and scribes challenge Jesus when they see his disciples have not washed their hands before eating (according to the Jewish custom), and Jesus responds passionately, referring to them as “hypocrites”.   I suspect there are times most of us behave as the Pharisees and scribes did at that meal, setting ourselves up in opposition to one another, offering criticism for not doing what is expected.   This gospel scenario brings to mind exactly those times that we use rules, laws, codes of conduct as a means of splitting ourselves into groups that stick to the rules (implied = the good guys) and those that do not stick to the rules (implied = the bad guys), while losing sight of why it is we do what we do.   In regard to matters of faith, the rules should exist not as a means of controlling and grading the behaviour of one another, but as a means of ensuring God is close in our hearts.    If we the baptized comprise the Body of Christ (every single one of us), any attitude, action or behaviour that creates division is harmful to each of us.

It is true that some reject rules simply because we resist being told what to do.   However, some like to understand the source.  Where does this come from?  Why do we do this?  This rule makes no sense to me!   Questioning why we do the things we do is healthy, but often in matters of faith when we question the rules laid out for us we are greeted with a lukewarm reception.   We get shut down with a brick wall because “it is just the way it is.”

Over the past few years, I have had numerous conversations with teenagers and young adults who feel comfortable enough with me to sound off on their frustrations, and I have learned this:  most seem naturally inhospitable to the use of rules and regulations of faith as segue to what they consider judgemental attitudes and behaviour.    I do not think it overstated or scandalous news to suggest that the Christian community in general suffers from a difficult reputation in regard to using God and rules of church as a means of judging one another, and I find that young people are especially attuned to this.  They reject it, and some cite it as a central reason for not participating in their faith community beyond what they are required to do (by law of the parents!).

Fr. Ron Rolheiser summed this up eloquently when he wrote “Dogmatic boundaries are important.  But, equally important, we don’t do God, faith, religion, and the church a favor when our beliefs are narrow, bigoted, legalistic, or intolerant.  Anti-religion is often simply a reaction to bad religion.”   So let us not forget that we are a people of Good News!  Let us be worthy of today’s words from Deuteronomy, “Surely, this great nation is a wise and discerning people!”

-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton

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