Monday, April 20, 2015

Delight in the Law of the Lord

Have you ever said a word over and over again until suddenly it loses its meaning and no longer sounds like a word? Unfortunately, all of Western Civilization has done this with the Catholic Faith.

I, like many others, am blessed to be a cradle Catholic and to have been brought up in the Faith from birth. But the problem cradle Catholics and all of Western Civilization share together is that we hear things so many times growing up that we no longer recognize their significance. Jesus walked on water and raised Lazarus from the dead? Heard it. Jesus suffered the most excruciating death in history to save us from our sins? Cool. Jesus came back to life three days later? It happens.

We hear the most extraordinary things so many times that they lose their meaning, and we have lost the sense of sitting back and truly contemplating the absolute mind-blowing facts of our Faith.

With the fact that we gloss over Jesus performing the most extraordinary miracles the world has ever known in mind, it is no wonder that when we actually read the Bible, we also gloss over the profound meaning of smaller texts, too. Take, for example, Psalm 1:

"1. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."

Perhaps you missed it. Allow me to highlight just one mind-blowing thing about this text that you probably didn't register:

"1. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."

What, what? His delight is in the law of the Lord? This may still not strike you as something extraordinary, but allow me to smack your world upside-down for a moment.

Imagine if President Obama made a speech tomorrow and said "Delight in traffic laws." We would justifiably make fun of him for making such a stupid and naive statement, because what rational person delights in having restrictions? Imagine a person saying "Thank you, Government, for not allowing me to drive on the left side of the road," or "I delight in the fact that if I speed or don't use a turning signal I'll get a ticket." As rational persons, we certainly appreciate that these things help to keep us safe, but to delight in them? That simply makes no sense -- after all, they restrict what we are able to do and can be incredibly inconvenient to us for many varied reasons. But taking delight is exactly what God is telling us to do with His Law, and that makes for some very intriguing implications.

Sure, there are many things in the Law which are very easy to take delight in. But you know all those things that are very alluring and pleasurable but we are taught are sinful, like adultery and pornography? God is telling you to delight in the fact that He says you can't do them.

 Are you finally getting the full picture?

This is revolutionary. This is mind-blowing, and we only reached the second verse in the book of Psalms! This is counter-intuitive in every earthly way possible. Sure, we can come to understand that things like adultery and pornography are bad for us on both spiritual and physical dimensions, but they still feel really good. Does God really expect us to delight in the fact that we can't do them? The short answer: Yes. And He is perfectly reasonable for doing so.

God knows everything. Again, something we hear so many times that we become desensitized to its significance, but really sit back and ponder this: God knows everything. He knows everything about you, me, and every human to have ever lived and ever will live. He also knows everything that is good for us and why, and everything that is bad for us and why. This means that with every restriction in God's Law, such as no fornication or pornography, there is a purpose behind it. He knows on levels we can't even fathom just how much they hurt us and how much they make us unhappy. They lead to our ruin in the way we think, the way we view things, our relationships with other people, and especially our relationship with God himself.

When God restricts us from things such as adultery and pornography, it is not because he wants us to be stuck in a sandbox of things we can do as we gaze longingly at the vast world outside of it, but because he wants us to have freedom in its fullest sense: Freedom to love, freedom to give, freedom to live happily and without regret and hurt!

Sin promises us pleasure and freedom, but it is a false freedom. Sure, at first we're free to do it whenever we like, but soon enough we became ensnared and chained to it. A young man who looks at porn and masturbates because he wants to soon finds he watches porn and masturbates because he has to. A woman who regularly gossips with her friends soon finds her entire outlook on people and life itself becomes incredibly negative and cynical. God tells us we can't do these things because he loves us and wants us to be free to love him and each other, and thus to live in the full sense of freedom we were made for. He tells us we can't watch pornography or gossip because he knows how deeply they restrict our ability to love, and so he tells us to stay away from them, even if we don't always understand why.

This is all perfectly explained in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Libertas, when he says:

"...For, as the possibility of error, and actual error, are defects of the mind and attest its imperfection, so the pursuit of what has a false appearance of good, though a proof of our freedom, just as a disease is a proof of our vitality, implies defect in human liberty. The will also, simply because of its dependence on the reason, no sooner desires anything contrary thereto than it abuses its freedom of choice and corrupts its very essence. Thus it is that the infinitely perfect God, although supremely free, because of the supremacy of His intellect and of His essential goodness, nevertheless cannot choose evil; neither can the angels and saints, who enjoy the beatific vision. St. Augustine and others urged most admirably against the Pelagians that, if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the angels and saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in his state of pilgrimage and imperfection. This subject is often discussed by the Angelic Doctor in his demonstration that the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery. It will suffice to quote his subtle commentary on the words of our Lord: "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin."(3) "Everything," he says, "is that which belongs to it a naturally. When, therefore, it acts through a power outside itself, it does not act of itself, but through another, that is, as a slave. But man is by nature rational. When, therefore, he acts according to reason, he acts of himself and according to his free will; and this is liberty. Whereas, when he sins, he acts in opposition to reason, is moved by another, and is the victim of foreign misapprehensions. Therefore, `Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.' "(4) Even the heathen philosophers clearly recognized this truth, especially they who held that the wise man alone is free; and by the term "wise man" was meant, as is well known, the man trained to live in accordance with his nature, that is, in justice and virtue."

And this is why God is being perfectly reasonable when he says blessed is the man who delights in the Law of the Lord: It's not to try and make us feel positive about all the things we can't do, but because delighting in his Law shows that we understand his Law saves us from the chains of sin and allows us to live in full freedom. When we realize this, there's no logical reason not to take delight in it!

But how often do we actually take delight in these things, if ever? I've been a devout Catholic for four years, and when I read that passage a month ago whilst doing Lectio Divina, I was immediately struck by its profound meaning and significance, particularly when I realized I had never done this. I loved God, I loved the Church, and I had been successfully living a chaste and moral life free from mortal sin for a very long time, but I had never once thanked God and delighted in his Law, and sometimes I even had a sense of longing to go back to my old ways. But until we take delight in the Law of the Lord, we can never truly be free and love freely. After all, a man cannot delight in his new-found freedom if he keeps looking back longingly at his shackles and cold prison cell.

And when we think of sin and the Law of the Lord in this way (That is, the proper way) we realize how truly foolish we are whenever we bemoan the Law or look at it as a list of restrictions, rather than God's gift and means to free us. The Law is not a long list of no's to fun, but a long list of yes's to authentic love and freedom. When we say no and reject sin, we are in fact saying yes and accepting love, and that's the core of the Law that so few realize and understand.

Blessed is the man who delights in the Law of the Lord.

Do you delight in the Law of the Lord? Now is the perfect time to start.