There is a danger when we speak of God’s Law, to consider it as we might any secular law. For example, we may well consider secular law merely to be some sort of impersonal code written by some nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them, we do not know them, or necessarily love or trust them. In effect, they are an abstraction in our mind called “the government” or “the man” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t want you to park here” or “They’ll fine you for that.”
God’s Law is Personal – But when it comes to God’s Law we are dealing with something different, something very personal, if we have faith. For God’s law is not given by someone we do not know, love or trust. If we have faith, God is someone we do in fact know, someone we love and trust. Further, we believe he loves us and wants what is best for us. God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign hung by some nameless, faceless city government. Rather it is a personal exhortation, instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.
Consider an example. Suppose you pull in front of my church to park and you see a no-parking sign. Now suppose you also decide to ignore it. Alright, you have broken a law, not a big one, but a law nonetheless. You’ve chosen to ignore a sign put there by “the government.” But suppose another scenario: I your beloved blogger and the pastor of the Church you are attending or visiting is standing out there, and I say to you, “Please don’t park here.” Now the situation is very different. I, someone you know and love, 🙂 , am personally requesting that you leave the space open for some reason. When you experience the law this way you are far more likely to follow it, because someone you know and trust is asking and directing you.
But what if, despite this, you still choose to ignore the instruction not to park there. Well then, the situation is quite different in this case, for, in this case, the law is personal. The refusal to follow it now becomes personal as well and there is a far more serious situation we are dealing with.
Scripture: It is a frequent thing when the Law is recited in the Old Testament to see the refrain “I am the Lord” For example:
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.
“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD. (Lev 19:11-14)
Note how the litanies of the law each end: “I am the Lord.” (These are but two of other litanies). I am the Lord. On the one hand it gives solemnity to the pronouncement. But, at another level what God is saying is, This is Me talking. It is I who speak to you. I who created you, who led you out of slavery, parted the Red Sea, dispatched your enemies, fed you in the desert and gave you drink from the rock. It I, I who love you, I who care for you, I who has given you everything you have, I who want what is best for you, I who have earned your trust. It is I, your Father who speak to you and give you this command.
An ancient Rabbi explained the inclusion “I am the Lord” this way: “It is God’s way of saying to us, ‘Look now. I am the one who fished you out of the mud. Now come over here and listen to me.'”
Yes, God’s law is personal. Do we see and experience it this way? This will happen only if we come to know the Lord personally. Otherwise, the danger becomes that we see the Law of God as merely an impersonal code, an abstract set of rules to follow. They might as well have been issued by the deity, the godhead, or even just the religious leaders of the day.
Hence a gift to pray for in terms of keeping God’s Law is a closer walk with the Lord and an experience of his love for us. Such an experience is a great help in loving the Law of the Lord. For when we love the Lord we love his law and see it not as an imposition, but a personal code of love that is meant to protect us. And when we offend against it either willfully or through weakness, we are more able to repent with a more perfect contrition for we experience that we have offended someone we love and who is deserving of all our love.
This personal relationship brings God’s law alive, makes it personal. And so God says as he reminds of of his Law: I am the Lord. This is me talking – It is I, the one who loves you.
This song says, I Love the Lord. He heard my cry. Long As I live, and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to his throne.” (Sung by Whitney Houston)
8 Replies to “God’s Law is Personal”
Hi Msgr. Pope
Enjoyed your recent blog on revelation. Question for you on this topic: Can souls of our departed love ones return to earth to appear to us? I recently lost my 45 year old wife and have been praying for a sign that she’s in Heaven and okay. I’m thinking that Heaven is outside of space and time so would be difficult to “crossover” back to earth. What do you think? What does our church say about this?
Byron, Ontario, Canada
To Byron, I shall share an experience that I and my husband had early last summer. 0f 2013. We arrived home with our 21/2 years old granddaughter, and while we were still in the car she stated plain as day, “there’s Grandma Rosie” We asked her where is she, and she pointed to our front porch. My husband and I looked at each other, and I calmly asked her, “who do you see?” and she said again Grandma Rosie. You can imagine that we were shocked, as my mother passed away 7 months before our son was married, in 2008, at the age of 88. We went into the house and I showed her a photo of my mother at perhaps 60, and asked her who it was, and she stated Grandma Rosie. There is more to this story, as my two sons always called my mom Grandmother Rose, no Grandma, although their cousins used the latter . Now, two or three months later, I again showed her the picture, telling her I forgot who it was, and she had no idea who the picture was of. I discussed this incident with my priest spiritual advisor while on retreat, and he told me that he felt it was a fact that our granddaughter had seen my mom, and that it was a gift from God, probably for me, to know that she was with God and in the communion of saints. He also said that he had never, himself, heard of this happening to anyone he had spoken with over his many years as a priest. He believed what I told him because there were two witnesses to the incident. I cannot tell you the comfort it has given me.
Also, Father told me that my granddaughter was very special and had a special gift from God. He has encouraged me to listen well when she is playing alone for any sign that she may not be alone. This is a truth, and I will never be persuaded otherwise.
I am so sorry for your loss, 45 is such a young age, but I sincerely believe that your beloved wife is in Heaven, just as I know my mom is. God bless you.
Thank you, Monsignor.
This is a timely piece, because all over the place I see people flouting, disobeying, and breaking the law. (And I am not even talking about Church!) Examples include: drivers not using turn signals and going through red lights; elected officials refusing to fulfill their oath to uphold the (state or federal) constitution; a president who routinely slices and dices his duties to execute the law; etc., etc. I see a big part of the problem as a view that law is either a hoop to jump through or is merely stupid, if not outright immoral (applying the civil rights struggle to every desire and whim, no matter how selfish). If drivers, for instance, could see that using turn signals is really about being a part of a community of drivers and not some random whim of the government, we’d all be safer. Law is a communitarian thing and should be part of social solidarity, not something each one of us is empowered to interpret, alter, or ignore. Gee: I guess everything I just wrote could be applied to Church life too. (Note to improvising priests: the rubrics are there for a reason!)
Thank you Msgr. Charles Pope, for this wonderful article which stops me in my thinking and opens the door to realize how great our God is and be so very thankful for my catholic faith. God bless you always.
Byron, you have my sincere sympathies and prayers for you, your beloved wife and all your loved ones. Your desire that your wife is in Heaven and “safe” is a testament to your great love.
Now, what can we KNOW about anyone’s salvation? Here what we can KNOW:
1) God wants ALL men to be saved. ALL. No exceptions. Your desire that your wife is in Heaven and “safe”? Multiple that by a billion and you haven’t even scratched the surface as to God’s desire that your wife be in Heaven.
2) God damns no one. To reject Heaven requires a mortal sin and a refusal to repent to the end–this includes that last tiny fraction of a second of a person’s life. We may not witness the person’s repentance.
3) Pope John Paul II said we need not despair over anyone’s salvation. Indeed, “despair” is a sin against the virtue of Hope. Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2091. (The other–and opposite–sin against the virtue of Hope is presumption). We should never say “This person is in Hell because he was a Nazi–or he was a drug dealer–or he was a mass murderer.” This would be an insult to the mercy of God. As if God’s mercy could not save a Nazi, drug dealer or mass murderer! God’s mercy dwarfs those sins.
4) At the same time, we should not commit the sin of “presumption”. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2092. Presumption is when we assume someone is in Heaven. This is also a sin against Hope since we cannot KNOW the state of Grace a person dies in. When someone says “Uncle Bob is in Heaven since he was a good guy”–that is a sin of presumption (although, perhaps, unintentional).
5) With all sin–despair and presumption–lead us to wrong behavior. If we have the virtue of HOPE, we pray for our dearly departed. We have Masses said for them. We do acts of charity (and fasting) and ask God to apply these acts of charity to our loved one’s salvation. We invoke Mary and all the angels and the saints. CCC par. 1032. We can STILL pray for their salvation–since God is outside of time and space He can still apply your prayers and good works toward your wife’s salvation. Also, if your wife is in Purgatory (where one is “safe”, salvation is assured) but she is suffering as she is being purified for Heaven–your prayers, Masses and good works in her name can lessen her suffering.
As to your question–can someone “crossover” back to earth? The short answer is yes. Mary and the saints have appeared in “private revelations” (Lourdes, Fatima etc). However, we should never be tempted to contact the dead in seances or mediums etc. This is a sin against the First Commandment: “All forms of divination are to be rejected…conjuring up the dead…and recourses to mediums…” are all sins against the First Commandment (CCC par. 2116).
This leaves us with the great virtue of “Hope”. And hope “does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). “Hope is the ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…’ Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation…It affords us joy even under trial: ‘Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.’ Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father…” CCC par. 1820.
“…In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved…” CCC par. 1821
Byron, I am praying for you and your wife. The whole Church is. All the angels and saints are. “Be not afraid.”
God bless you.
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