I have many friends whom I have loved in my life who have either never known Christ, or, having once known Him, have separated themselves from Him. As I pray daily for them, my heart longs that they should come to Him, and I know that it is His longing as well. Many of them, I think, when they consider Christianity, see only a lot of rules, which they consider arbitrary, unjust, or simply difficult. All those who preach Christ are doing is trying to force me and other people to follow their rules—at least that is what I once thought. Certainly it would appear that the Church teaches a great many rules, but is that what it is all about? Is it all about the rules?
When I am teaching people who are entering the Church about the faith, I begin with God’s plan, which is summarized in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: to unite all things in Christ. This plan reveals, to begin with, the nature of God as an interpersonal Being, a loving union of three Persons, in whom is all being, all life, all truth, and all love. This God freely chose to share His being with creation, causing all things to be. He chose to share His life with living things, that contain within them some image of His creative life. He chose to share His personal nature by creating human beings in His image, male and female, that they might, by coming together in a union of love, continue His creative work. To them He gave the ability to love, which can come only by a free choice, which raises them above the animals and above inanimate being.
Even when man and woman abused the gift of freedom by choosing not to love Him, but to love something else, God was not deterred from His plan. He left them with a mark of Himself within them, the mark of conscience, though it was weakened and often distorted by their separation from Him. He began to prepare a people for Himself by revealing to them His nature, and how to live in accordance with that nature. These are what we might call the rules, hidden in the conscience of every human being, but revealed by God to one people. He revealed what it meant to live in accordance with His nature, with the image of God that He had created them for in the beginning, and hedged them around with other rules, that this people might preserve them. He revealed it even though He knew that they would not be capable, on their own power, to follow them, but at least they could know and love them.
To overcome at last the separation from God that could not be overcome by any human act, He Himself took on human nature and underwent human death, in order that those who accepted Him might at last share the divine nature and be restored to the union with God for which they were created. It was for this union, that these free created beings might be united with Him, that the whole of creation was brought into being. It was that God’s interpersonal love might be shared with other persons, that they might be incorporated into it and thus enjoy complete happiness, love, life, and truth, that the universe exists. The divine Person of Christ, who took on human nature and brought it beyond death into a new life, is now the leader and source of life for a new humanity; as St. Paul writes, “he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.” To be joined to Christ is to share the divine nature; to share the divine nature means to live by virtue of that nature; and that way of life is what God has revealed.
Therefore, it is really about union, about sharing the nature of God, about living in that love. The rules are not the goal; they are the description of how a human being lives the way human beings are created to live in union with God. We are still wounded in our nature and easily confused; we can lose sight of God and be pulled away by our selfish wills. We can still break that union with God by departing in serious ways from the nature that He has placed within us. He has provided, however, the means to be restored to this union. Departing from union with God leads to the loss of all good, a loss that can be permanent in death. No matter how we have departed, however, we can always be reunited with God by embracing the cross of Christ, on which He underwent our death in order to give us His life; and here we can receive that love again and again, and the ability to live in that union until it becomes the eternal union beyond this world.
He is constantly calling, and no one is beyond that call. He is calling the man who, from anger or greed or whatever other motive, unjustly deprived another human being of life. He is calling the woman who, after promising to give herself completely to one man, gave herself to another. He is calling the man who unjustly deprived others of the fruits of their labors. He is calling the man who has used women as objects of selfish pleasure rather than making the total gift of himself to one. He is calling the woman who, out of confusion or fear, killed the child growing in the sanctuary of her womb. He is calling the man who, out of disordered desire, rather than giving himself to a woman in creative union, sought similar pleasure with other men or with children. God’s fierce love for these and for all his beloved children blazes against the things that have separated them from Him, not because He wants to punish them, but because He wants to cherish them and heal them and unite them to Himself forever, where true love and true pleasure and true life are to be found. The rules are just the signposts that tell us to turn back home to where our great Lover awaits.