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By David Gonzalez F.

It’s a true story.

Good ol’ Father O’Brian, let’s call him, stood by the church doors greeting parishioners after Sunday Mass. Little Bobby approached with his mom.

“Are you God?” he asked. The priest chuckled.

“My heavens, no!” he said. “I’m just his servant!”

“I thought so,” little Bobby replied.

“And what gave it away?” the priest asked with a sparkle in his eye. The boy looked at the priest knowingly.

“You’re too fat.”

The joy of being Catholic! Our faith doesn’t have to be lifeless, restrictive, and boring. And if it does feel that way, then we’re probably doing something wrong! But I admit it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Catholicism is nothing more than a list of rules. Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to give my life over to something, it’s got to be more than just religious law. I don’t even care how sensible the rules may be. My life is worth so much more.

So what do I give my life for? At the heart of it all, our religion is about an encounter with the God who is Love. In theory, the rules are meant to deepen this encounter, not hinder it. Does your heart ever feel like it could explode with love for somebody? Way to go! You’ve had an encounter with the risen Lord! Do you ever feel happy to give of yourself without counting the cost? Hallelujah! The Prince of Peace is working through you! Do you ever have compassion for your abusers as the broken human beings that they are? Rejoice and be glad! You are united with God like a saint! This is the joy of being Catholic!

Unfortunately, sometimes our faith can be reduced to the caricature of a list of controversial dos and don’ts. But if a situation arises in which the rules prevent us from becoming more loving individuals, then something has gone wrong in their application. After all, opening our hearts wide to the God who is Love is supposed to be the very reason for their existence.

Last January I had the privilege of doing the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola in its 30 day form. As I followed Jesus through the Gospels in the silence of the retreat, the following message struck me like a lightening bolt time and time again:

People matter more than things – even religious things.

I suppose this may seem unorthodox at first glance. But Jesus also seemed unorthodox to some of his contemporaries! Imagine the disdain in the hearts of the Pharisees as they watched Jesus heal on the Sabbath. What kind of a holy man could he be if he did not even respect the Law of Moses? But the point is Jesus DID respect the Law. He respected it more than all the Pharisees put together because he realized that at the heart of the Law was something bigger than legalism.

Jesus knew that people are more important than things. He entered the home of people who were considered sinners. He rebuked the disciples for wanting to call down fire from heaven to destroy the cities that did not welcome them. He defended the dignity of the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus actually made the Law more respectable by applying it with heart instead of in a black and white sort of way.

Here again is the joy of being Catholic! The more you love, the more Catholic you are. Far too often, a person’s Catholicity is judged by how much he supports or how well he adheres to certain teachings of the Church. The problem is that there’s more to being Catholic than following the rules. At the heart of it all is HEART. Love is the most beautiful gift God gives us because it is the gift of his own self.

How could our faith be anything but a source of great joy with this in mind? Nothing really matters apart from this. Whatever helps us to fall in love with Love is good and should be kept. Whatever prevents us from falling in love with Love is harmful and should be abandoned. This is why we were created. And true love brings joy.

One last thing!

Good ol’ Father O’Brian was greeting parishioners after Mass again. A woman approached him saying, “Father, that was a good homily.”

The priest replied, “Oh, I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.”

“It wasn’t THAT good!” she said.

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