Paul’s making an important point in the second reading: He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire’. What he’s talking about is the old testament Law – where if you sinned, you had to sacrifice a dove or goat or something else depending on what the sin was. The reading says God did not desire that kind of sacrifice… OK that’s good since we don’t do that anymore…. so what DOES God want from us? He says, ‘I come to do your will’… so what IS God’s will?
Some people think Catholicism is all about “following the rules”. You HAVE to go to Mass every week AND holy days, you HAVE to go to confession, you have to save sex for marriage and you have to get married in the church and get your kids baptized and confirmed. You have to tithe your 10%. You can’t eat an hour before Mass. Then there’s all the Lenten days of fasting and abstinence… lots of ‘rules.
Yet – if truth be told – most people don’t ‘follow the rules’. Why is that? I vaguely remember a quote from years ago: it’s human nature that when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule…. when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule. We come up with excuses why this rule doesn’t apply to me. Like I know the sign says STOP, but I don’t see anybody coming, so I can blow right through this one.
Imagine living in Jerusalem back in the day – they had rules on top of rules on top of rules. No way the average Josephus could follow every one of them….unless you were a Pharisee who prided themselves in being perfect followers of the law. But – the bad news for them and the good news for us is: it’s not about following rules, but rather doing the will of God. Everything – EVERYTHING we do we should be seeking to do the will of God. What is God’s will? Let me give you another phrase them might be easier to understand. Since God is Love, we could say, do whatever Love requires.
Do whatever love requires – what’s that look like?
Jerry was walking with his grandsons in the woods – they were super excited because they were going to hike to the stream and look for fossils. Plus, they’d get all dirty and wet and Mom wasn’t there to get mad at them! As they got close to the stream, the boys couldn’t contain their enthusiasm, so they ran ahead of Jerry. But a minute later, one of them let out a blood-curdling scream and didn’t stop. Jerry could see his arms flailing in the air as he danced around on the rocks.
Immediately, Jerry sprinted to the boys and saw they were being swarmed by yellow-jackets. Jerry instinctively grabbed the younger boy and pushed him toward the shore with a command to run toward the house. Then he grabbed the other boy by the collar and pulled him out of the water where he had sought refuge, and carried him to shore with the same command to run. Jerry followed, but he was being bitten and he noticed the yellow-jackets were following them, so he purposely hung back so the boys might get to safety. Ended up, Jerry was bitten multiple times and miraculously, the boys had escaped any injury.
Was Jerry following a rule that says grandfathers must allow themselves to be bitten to protect their grandchildren? No – Jerry was just doing whatever Love requires.
Similarly, when we come to Mass or follow any of the other Catholic ‘rules’ – it’s not out of obligation – but we’re doing whatever love requires. Let’s take that one rule and think about it: why is it a big deal if we miss Mass on Sunday? Think of it as a relationship. Say you and your spouse decide that Saturday evening is your Date night. It’s on the calendar and you both keep that open religiously. So what if one Saturday your buddies say let’s play cards tonight… should you go?
Just like we have to invest time on our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with God requires time – and the best way to do that is to build habits like I’ll pray every day when I get up and I’ll go to Mass every weekend. Is that a rule? No – it’s whatever love requires.
Look at Mary in the Gospel – was she following a rule that said she must go take care of her cousin Elizabeth? No – but she gives us a great example of what we’re supposed to do. Once she received Jesus inside her body, she immediately thought of others. That’s what we’re called to do to – once we receive Jesus here in the Eucharist, we should go outside ourselves to help others.
In fact, this time of year, when it is darkest of all and people can easily become depressed, this would be a great time to follow Mary’s lead. Let’s all find someone in our neighborhoods who is stuck at home. Take them some cookies or soup or just stop by to talk. It will make their day – and likely make your day as well.
Do Whatever Love requires.