Jean Vanier ( founder of L’Arche) once said,
“You can be right. You can be dead right and bring death to all those around you.”
Many traditionalists believe that Church culture is the same as basic tenets of the faith. Challenging custom is synonymous with challenging the faith . Out of insecurity and an absence of a vibrant relationship to Jesus they become rigid, self-righteous. However, every thinking, praying, honest spiritual person who seeks the Spirit of in their own heart, experiences a deep sense of fulfillment, deeper than the ritual. Rituals become an instrument, a means to an end which is union with God. Close-minded traditionalists are often afraid of the inner spiritual life and so they fall back on fulfilling the letter of the law, even if that law is simply tradition.
Jesus called this sort of believer a Pharisee. This religious spirit chains many believers; they focus on outer conformity to tradition. If we understand the difference between cultural tradition and basic tenets of the faith plus a relationship with God, our focus changes. All we want to do is allow God to love us and pass it on to those around us. Don’t jump to conclusions; I do believe that the Catholic Church is the fullest expression of revealed truth, that’s why I converted 38 years ago. However, I agree with Mother Theresa and Jean Vanier; we are called to love people where they are.
I might not cling to ritual, yet I do not discard this helpful instrument. I might be “free in Christ” yet if I notice that my behaviour upsets “weaker brethren”, I should refrain so I do not cause others to stumble (Melanie’s version of St. Paul). Fear, especially fear of the Living God, often freezes people into rigid patterns of behaviour. If we understand reasons behind irrational beliefs, it is possible to empathy’s with our accusers. In love we can make the right decisions. Sometimes we must gently speak the truth and sometimes we simply stay and love and forgive.
When we die we will all see clearly and realize that we really did not understand as much as we think we did anyway. St. Paul says we see through a mirror darkly. The most holy men realized that the closer they actually got to God, the less the really knew. They were the simple souls who looked at God and let Him gaze with love on them in return.
Our challenge is to love the Pharisee into the kingdom, into becoming a heart disciple. None of us knows a heck of a lot about God or what He really thinks yet He treats us with humour and kindness. The least we can do is extend that same kindness to others, especially those who we must forgive. Then we are invited to let go or our OWN self-righteous anger.