By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, February 13, 2017

Playing by the Rules

It was a blast!! You may have read on our Twitter accounts (@CAEDM, @archbsmith) that the Archdiocese of Edmonton teamed up last Friday with the Edmonton Oil Kings to host a Faith and Fun night at Rogers Place. Nearly 1000 parishioners gathered for the Oil Kings game against the Regina Pats, as well as for a pre-game event. Lots and lots of fun. I must admit that part of the fun was watching all the double-takes among the people as they saw priests in collars and friars in habits walking in the corridors and seated in the stands. They must have momentarily wondered if they were in the right place!

As I watched the game unfold, I found my attention drawn to two things. First was the way the game flowed freely as the players exercised their considerable skill in skating, handling the puck etc. Second was the keen and practiced awareness that the players had of the rules of the game. The two are obviously connected. What made the game flow freely was adherence to the rules. When the rules were infringed (offside, penalty) the free flow of the competition ended as the game was brought to a halt.

What was at work in the game is a principle by which we live daily: rules (or law) make freedom possible; they do not inhibit its exercise. To take just one other example, the free flow of vehicles on our roads is made possible by common adherence to traffic laws.

This necessary relationship between law and freedom is the heart of the message proclaimed by the Scripture readings of Sunday, specifically the inseparable connection between God’s law and human liberty. It is also at the centre of dramatic events unfolding in our society.

God fashioned us with the gift of freedom. This is implicitly affirmed by the passage from Sirach (15:15-20), which calls to mind the human capacity for choice. The ability to choose presumes freedom.The ultimate choice God desires from us is that by which we choose to love Him with our whole heart, mind and soul. That we may know how properly to use the gift of freedom, God has given us the gift of his law, particularly as expressed in the commandments. As it is true in our daily experience of human relating, so, too, and all the more so, in our relationship with God: God’s law enables our freedom; it is not opposed to it. The goodness of God’s law, and the necessity of adherence to it, is affirmed by Jesus in the Gospel. He, who has come to liberate from the hold of sin our God-given freedom (cf. Galatians 5:1), teaches that he has come not to abolish but to fulfil the law of God (cf. Matthew 5:17-18). 

The words and deeds of Jesus Christ underscore with brilliant clarity the truth that we cannot live fully and freely the human life God intends for us apart from adherence to the divine law. We have to play by the rules of the game.

Yet it is precisely this truth that we see challenged today by a mindset that understands God’s law as an infringement upon my liberty. According to this way of thinking, the law of God must be ignored if I am to find fulfilment, to achieve my desires. The legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the service of “autonomy” is the latest lethal consequence of this. Yet, if I am a law unto myself, then I am no different than a hockey player who makes up the rules as he goes to suit himself. This is not freedom; it is license. It causes us to bang into each other and brings the game very quickly to a halt. We experience not freedom but slavery. We become enslaved to the pursuit of desire, and the “game” of life generally is held captive to competing self-interest.

To paraphrase St. Paul, we cannot even begin to comprehend the wondrous and beautiful things God is holding in store for us, his beloved children (cf. 1Corinthians 2:9). Out of trust in his love and providence, we allow God to guide our lives by adhering to his law, which is, in fact, the gift of his love. Let us embrace his commandments! Only thus shall we truly be free.