During 8th period yesterday, I found myself embroiled in an unexpected debate on modesty. It was interesting, albeit slightly frustrating, to hear the girls present the woes of being asked to dress modestly. And, to a degree, I would agree with them that the rules of dress tend to be more strictly enforced for women. They argued about short shorts and the horror of needing to cover their shoulders. Even in their discussions, they admitted that modesty was enforced differently by different teachers and that one rule didn’t always work the same for everyone. The true problem, however, is one of feeling burdened.
Culturally, we view each rule or law as a means of eliminating or reducing freedom. And, yes, of course it is placing as “off limits” different words, actions, or dress. In an argument that was pro-shoulder, one girl said she didn’t understand why they needed to cover a shoulder because it was something God made. Well, I responded, you don’t really want to see everything about a person that God made. Some things should be covered up. As for the shoulder, I don’t have very strong opinions about it, unless we are talking about during the liturgy.
Everything seemed to circle back to what I had told one of my senior classes earlier in the day. I told them that if they viewed the Church as a bunch of rules, a list of yeses and noes, then they would not like it. I told them I could essentially guarantee that they would be dissatisfied with the Church if that was their viewpoint. However, if we see it in terms of a relationship, then that shifts that focus.
And for the last day I have been marveling at the gift of freedom that is found in such a relationship. I found myself longing to give them a sense of that freedom because there is really no substitute. Attending Mass each Sunday is a precept of the Church, but the main purpose is for us to enter into deeper relationship with God, to partake of God Himself and worship Him. This call to love and worship God is a “requirement” but yet it is impossible to fulfill it if we view it solely as that. How can I be required to love someone? Instead, I must choose love. And I would not teach Catholic theology if it was merely passing on a list of rules. Granted, I do like rules (weird, I know) but I could not get passionate (or deal with hours of teenage attitude) simply about rules.
There is tremendous freedom when we see the rules and structure of the Church in the correct light: more as a mother guiding her children and less as a jail warden making sure everyone is tucked away in their proper cell. If we see God as the jailer, instead of the lover, it will be impossible to see Him as loving and merciful and tenderly attentive to our every thought, word, and desire. We will think He is simply waiting for us to mess up or break one of His commandments. If that is the view, then of course we would not be able to see freedom in that.
A relationship with Christ and His Church is radically different from that view of a jail. In fact, I was considering this interesting of reality of adhering to rules meaning greater sense of freedom when I thought of my sister. One of my sisters is a cloistered nun. When I visit her, there are two grates (sets of metal bars) that separate us. To the untrained eye, I am visiting a prisoner. But the bars are not there to keep her locked away inside (she is a very intelligent, strong-willed, able-bodied lady in her early 30s–she could definitely get out if she wanted) but rather they help protect her freedom. Strange? Of course, this Catholic life is always a bit odd. The bars help her to remain faithful to the life to which God has called her. Operating within her vows as a religious sister, help her to live a great interior freedom, far greater than if she would choose to sneak out of the monastery at night to run around the town.
Christ sets us free. However, like any lover, He makes demands: on our time, on our thoughts, on our hearts, on our actions. To spend time with your beloved shouldn’t be burdensome and to remain faithful to them in mind, word, and deed shouldn’t be considered onerous. We delight to please our beloved and we desire to live in a way that would please them. This should be true of the Church, too. To follow the laws of the Church should be a delight, even if we find them difficult at times. And when we remain true to Christ’s Church and Christ Himself, we experience a great freedom.
True love and true freedom is not burdensome.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)