It’s July and talk of freedom and Independence and the planned celebrations that accompany both are swarming the internets. So, in this way, this post will just be one among many. But the freedom I want to talk about wasn’t won with the revolutionary war. It wasn’t fought for by soldiers on any shore. And it’s rarely celebrated in the common square. It’s a quiet freedom paid for in one revolutionary and violent act, celebrated daily across the world. I’m Catholic. Of course I’m talking about freedom in Christ.
For years I heard of – talked about – the Romans Road. It’s a path to salvation, dontcha know; lined with fire and brimstone, weaves around mercy, and stops at heaven. The nice thing about it is that once your on it, you can’t fall off.
But the aftermath of the Romans Road was something I held on to for many, many years. I reject the tract, of course. Or at least the incompleteness of it. And definitely the lack of mercy is hardly any consolation to those who need it. But one of the things I hadn’t realized I was holding on to was the burden that faith had become to me.
Faith, in my experience at the time, was full of all sorts of unwritten rules. It seemed that no matter where I turned in the Bible, another rule was waiting for me to follow: be perfect, think on these things, you’re neither hot nor cold. It led to a critical and harsh view of this physical life here on earth, but that wasn’t the worst of it. For someone like me who tends to overthink everything that comes across my plate commands like this left no room for me. The earthy Christine who is trying to survive until I die. Because that’s how I came to see everything.
I couldn’t read many books and have the right to enjoy them because always in the back of my mind was “is this good?”.
My heart rejected using this Romans Road as a means to bash someone over the head and then drag them into church. Or even to befriend a person with the sole purpose of trying to “save their soul.” Was I lukewarm then? What did the book of Revelations promise to people like me?
But I think worst of all, was that command to “be perfect.”
Because I wasn’t. And the Romans Road told me so.
I was at a quandary and that quandary became a major factor in my decision to leave fundamentalism.
But that was long ago and about ten years before my coming home, into the Catholic Church.
So what does all of this have to do with freedom?
I’m telling you because I see vestiges of the burdens I left behind in Catholicism. I see, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger so eloquently put it in his book “Faith and the Future”
“A cry for liberation from a form of faith that has allowed itself to become a burden instead of the vehicle of freedom.”
- Two fingers below the collar bone for modesty.
- Follow this devotion (or that devotion, depending on who is making the demand) so that you can be holy enough.
- Send your kids to Catholic School.
- Keep your kids at home and homeschool them.
- (Whatever you do, don’t send them to a public school!)
- Only eat this food: it’s what He intended us to eat.
- Make sure you clean your house this way and do it happily! He made you a wife and mother! It’s your vocation!
I suspect that converts are more susceptible to this way of thinking. We worked harder for our salvation than any cradle Catholic we accused. But I’ve seen a rush into this “the Protestants are doing it! We should too!” way of thinking and it just ain’t so.
Christianity – the kind that has been held on to by Catholicism – is so very freeing. Sin is a question of the heart. Not a checklist.
- The Catechism (or that infamous little book) doesn’t define our modesty, our heart does.
- Not performing “an enthronement” of the Sacred Heart will not put you on a path to hell. (But if you want to practice the devotion, go ahead!)
- Parents are the prime educators of their children regardless of where they learn their book lessons.
- Their isn’t a prescribed diet in the Catechism.
- Cleaning a house is a necessary task, but not one that your holiness necessarily depends on. Its okay to not be a Pinteresty person.
We are, another verse in Romans points out, “obedient from the heart”.
We have, as Servais Pinckaers, O.P. so eloquently states, “freedom for excellence.”
So go ahead and put down your moral checklists. Quit using them as weapons against yourself and against others. Practice the beatitudes. Practice faith and freedom. Practice freedom.