Our readings this Sunday focus on the gift of the Commandments and the explicit invitation by the Holy One of Israel to follow them. Seeing the Commandments as a gift is a particular challenge for us, as in our progressively more anti-law culture, the law is seen as somehow inhibiting our freedom. This was not the Jewish perspective at all. The Jews saw the gift of the Law as a precious treasure they had received from the Holy One of Israel that in fact was a sign of His grace and favor, as Moses demonstrates: “Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the Lord our God whenever we call upon Him? Or what great nation has laws and rules as perfect as all this Teaching that I set before you this day?” (Deut. 6:6) Every year Jews today celebrate the Feast of Simchat Torah, literally: the Rejoicing of the Law, thanking God for this gift, in which the entire congregation participates in a joyful procession in which they literally dance the Torah around the Sanctuary of the synagogue with festive music of praise and worship. That attitude is in stark contrast with much of the contemporary approach that attempts to see an opposition between freedom and the Commandments. St. John Paul the Great addresses this in some detail in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which he notes: “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom.” (VS, #35) The Catechism echoes that perspective in describing the Law as a “fatherly instruction by God” to lead us to “the promised beatitude.” We are invited to resist the attitude of the age and yield to the perspective of the Kingdom.
Of course, in everyone’s experience some aspects of God’s law are easier to follow than others. This weekend we also celebrate the fulfillment of one of those ‘easier’ commandments. It is seen as very important by the Jews and they in fact see it as the first of the 613 Commandments of the Law: “Be fruitful, and multiply.” Its importance is shown by the fact that if a husband and wife had made arrangements in this regard and the husband was unable to get home because of the Sabbath travel restriction, he was exempted from that restriction in this case. Given the magnitude of the importance the Jews placed on keeping the Sabbath, this exemption should be seen as no little thing.
This gift is obviously of great significance to Christians as well, in that, as St. John Paul the Great was so fond of pointing out, the domestic Church, the family, is in many ways the very heart of the Church, both the Church universal as well as the local community. We celebrate the great gift of this Sacrament, uniting man and woman in this great bond of grace and love and whose fulfillment brings about this gift of the domestic church. This too is a gift under significant assault in our time. The Lord Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will provide us with the grace and strength we need to resist this assault and continue to celebrate this gift, so crucial to the life of the Church. The King of Kings Himself takes particular note when we honor this gift by solemnly renewing those vows which are the heart of that Sacrament. He promises His ongoing aid, assistance, and protection, as men and women stand before God and the Christian community and renew their gift to each other. The King of Kings has given all of us specific vocations to live out for the building of the Kingdom. Let us assist each other as we all strive to live in a way that is pleasing to Him, empowered by His Holy Spirit! — Fr. Ed