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The Laws that Give Life
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
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Jesus has hard words for us in the Gospel. Part of his Sermon on the Mount, this passage is where he seems to be letting the vast crowd following him know that while he brings a message of life—and eternal life—it’s not without a price.

Most of us have heard the Sermon on the Mount often enough that we can quote from it smoothly and naturally— or at least recognize quotes from it. Living its precepts might not come quite as easily. So it might be good to look at the reading from Sirach that the Church has chosen to pair with this Gospel.

The wise teacher tells his listeners, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God. you too shall live.” We don’t often think of the ten commandments as something we choose to follow or not. Just as they are famously stated for the most part in a “You shall not” formula, we think most often in terms of breaking them—intentionally or unintentionally.

The reading from Sirach reminds us that in nearly everything we do, we have a choice. Whether we take action or not, we make a choice. And, in fact, as a friend often reminds me when I’m struggling with a course of action, “Not to decide is to decide.”

We think of the ten commandments, the law of Moses, the Torah, as an impossibly high standard. But when we break it down, we discover that it’s simply essential to life in community. The impossibility comes through our desire to follow our own whims instead of God’s will. We imagine that somehow we would be happier without any laws, without any rules.

We have heard the many passages in the Gospels when Jesus spars with the scribes and the Pharisees over human additions to the law of Moses, rules and regulations that seem both petty and impossible to follow exactly. It must have been tempting for Jesus’s first followers to make the leap to complete lawlessness. We know from Paul’s letters that some of the early Christians did indeed fall into this trap. If only the things of the spirit mattered, then they could indulge their bodily desires all they wanted.

Jesus tells the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The reason people found it difficult to follow the law, and the reason the scribes and Pharisees felt compelled to add extra rules to make sure that people didn’t break the big rules, was because they weren’t seeing to the heart of the law: the covenant relationship with God.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is trying to lead people to a deeper understanding of the central commandments of their faith. He hopes to show them that it’s not a question of doing the bare minimum to stay on God’s good side. Rather, as Christians we are called enter so deeply into our relationship with God that we will treat all people with the care and respect due to them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we do that, following the commandments will simply be second nature.

Like Moses and the prophets, Jesus shows us that keeping God’s law is not a matter of following the rules as much as it is a matter of life and death. How can we help but choose life?

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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