Father David's Reflection for Wednesday of Week Ten (Ordinary Time)
God… has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit...the Spirit gives life.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He needed to say that, because, as a matter of fact, he did not observe all the Jewish laws—at least, as they were interpreted in his time (see Matthew 9:11; 12:1, 10; John 8:5).
Jesus respected laws—so much that he always tried to obey them in a way that achieved the purpose of the law. Catholic theology has recognized for centuries that sometimes, due to circumstances, it will actually do harm and frustrate the purpose of a law if one observes it exactly as it is written. In that case, our teaching is explicit: “It is bad to obey the law.” It is disobedient.
One of the worst things we can do is let ministry be guided primarily bylaws. The goal of ministry must be to feed the sheep (John 21:17). To do that, we first have to be sensitive to what the sheep need; and then, to what they can or will accept to eat. First focus must be on the sheep. On their good. On what will help them here and now. A minister who is not ready and willing—and free—to “temper the wind to the shorn lamb” by adapting the law when called for is not an authentic Christian minister. For ministry to be authentic, it must visibly be Jesus expressing himself here and now in the body of the minister.
Pope Francis wrote: (Joy of the Gospel 160): “Evangelization aims at a process of growth which entails taking seriously each person and God’s plan for his or her life. All of us need to grow in Christ. Evangelization should stimulate a desire for this growth, so that each of us can say wholeheartedly: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Gal 2:20).
And in Joy of Love (304), addressing the issue of whether or not those not “married in the church” may receive Communion, he wrote: “It is reductive [over simplistic] simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment:
Although there is certitude in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter exceptions… In matters of action, what is true or morally right is not the same for all in concrete detail, but only on the level of the general principles … The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4).
“It is true, however, that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, although in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations… For precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That… would endanger the values themselves, which must be preserved with special care.”
“The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: ‘Jesus Christ has saved you!’ Ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. [We are] always in danger of being either too rigorous or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands by reducing everything to the commandment. The lax minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds” (America Magazine, Sept. 30, 2013).
Meditation: In my ministry, do I find rules restrictive? Why do I let them be?