I was at a lunch party a while back with a group of Catholic friends when talk of all the “rules” that we have to follow came up. My hands were full at the time, Sadie was in one of her rare finicky moods where she doesn’t gobble up everything on her plate, and Mae was falling all over the place and kept losing one of her shoes, and so I was only half listening when the conversation began.
The only woman at the party who I didn’t know at all began talking about this rule and that rule with an air of “how ridiculous and senseless” dripping from every word. Even with my divided attention it became quickly clear that what was going to be said was going to make me about as uncomfortable as I could possibly be and after a short while the group quickly and nearly unanimously came to the conclusion that all the rules didn’t matter, that in fact, they actually get in the way and that in reality “All you need is love.” Those words were literally spoken and agreed upon as if they were some great theological truth that answered every problem.
I might have winced.
A lot of things went through my mind and I was rather disappointed in myself when I didn’t say anything and instead ended up excusing myself to take a fussy Mae into the other room to nurse. My thoughts weren’t exactly charitable and were rather jumbled, and I wasn’t sure I could present them in a coherent and un-sarcastic fashion. I’m so much better at writing things out than I am at articulating my thoughts in the heat of the moment. Debate is something Paul’s much better at and I usually leave it to him.
I’ve intended, since before the move, to write down a response to the claim: “All you need is love and the rules of the Church just get in the way…” but hadn’t had a chance until now. And so, here is my attempt at answering the conclusion that everyone seemed so pleased to accept:
All we would need would be love if we were perfect and our wills were in perfect accordance with God’s will. I imagine that people who are completely united with God, those who are at the moment of their death will be whisked straight to heaven without a purifying stop along the way, need little more than love, because the idea of sinning and rending themselves from their creator is so painful and abhorrent that they’d never give it a second thought.
But for those of us still down here in the mud struggling, for those of us who haven’t yet entered into the inner castle where the snares of this world can do little to harm us, the challenge of day to day life is somewhat different. After all, we get confused about what “love” is. We confuse pleasure with love and our pride gets in the way constantly. Concupiscence doesn’t make all of this any easier.
As most of us who’ve ever been a “love” struck teenager know, “love” can lead us to do some pretty stupid things. Of course it isn’t really love, not the life-giving soul-filling love that the Holy Spirit brings when two are united as one in the sacrament of marriage, but in our muddled, imperfect state it can look a lot like it, and so the trouble begins.
Maybe those who are pretty close to perfectly aligning their will with God’s don’t need rules because love, true love which is the Holy Spirit, leads them to do the right thing all the time. But for people like me, people who make wrong decisions and fall down and get back up, rules can be pretty helpful.
Even rules that are simple matters of obedience can help us bend our unruly wills and submit to something far greater than ourselves, an exercise, which while not always pleasant is usually incredibly helpful. And then there are the rules that help us understand the universe and our place in it, rules that show us the natural order and tell us things that should be common sense, like that we shouldn’t kill our children, even if they’ve yet to be born.
So maybe there are people out there that just need love to do the right thing all the time. But hopefully those who are in such an exalted state can have pity on the masses of us who are thankful that Christ didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves but gave us guidance when he said: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”