Tuesday, March 8, 2011

People Do Not Like to be Told What to Do

There has been a recent "to do" about whether a bishop should be able to tell a politician that he cannot present himself for Holy Communion while living in a state of open defiance of Church teaching.  I, for one, don't understand why there is any problem with a religion enforcing its own rules.  The sticking point is apparently that enforcement of the rules may make the offender look or feel bad.  This makes the enforcing body, a/k/a/ the Catholic Church, come across as a meanie.

Ed Peters, the renowned canon lawyer whose writings have been the catalyst for this latest tempest in a teapot, states the following on his blog, "In the Light of the Law":
"...I recall yet another thing my Jesuit spiritual director told me lo these many years ago. 'Nobody, Ed, least of you, likes being told what to do.' Who among us does not chafe at being told how to conduct ourselves? Throw in looming consequences for our (mis)conduct, and we are easy prey for siren voices chanting 'Rules are written by hypocrites to control the weak!' or, perhaps more subtly, 'Maybe this rule is okay for most people, but you’re the exception!' Original sin and personal sin are a deadly duo. It took Jesus dying on the Cross to give us a fighting chance against them."
People truly do not like being told what to do.  Which is why every institution, every government, every religion, needs a hierarchy.  If I tell someone that it's not right to chew gum during Mass, they will tell me to take a hike.  However, if Father Kelly tells them that it's not right to chew gum during Mass, they will at least acknowledge that he has the authority to do so.  The problem these days is that in our adolescent culture, we don't take very well to authority figures.  So, while they might agree that Father Kelly has the right to tell them the rules of the Church, they certainly don't want him to enforce those rules because that would be mean and unpastoral.

I've always found it interesting that soldiers are so often held up as good examples in the Gospels.  It seems that their acceptance of authority and obedience to their superiors provide them with a good foundation for Christian life.  Obedience isn't something foreign to them and it isn't seen as a bad thing.  Authority and obedience allow for order and the proper functioning of society.  The corollary, of course, is that those in authority must act with justice, and for the good of their subordinates.

So, whether it's a politician disobeying the rules, or the ordinary person in the pew defying the teachings of the faith, those who hold positions of authority in the Church must tell people "what to do" to stay on the narrow path and ultimately wind up in the Kingdom.  It's part of their job description.

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