“Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord”
This is the phrase that is on the poster for this year’s Catholic Appeal. Of course it is taken from Psalm 119 which we sang as the Responsorial Psalm at last Sunday’s liturgy. Someone commented to me that it makes it sound like the bishop is saying that part of the ‘following the Law of the Lord” involves making a donation to OCA. Well, I suppose in a way that is so. If we are in a position to do so then, yes following the Law of the Lord means sharing the good things that God has given us with others for the benefit of all.
We need to start by looking at the Bible’s understanding of ‘Law.” While St. Paul may have been very forceful on the idea Christians were free of the demands of the Law as found in teaching of the Pharisees and the Teachers, he was enough of a Jew to regard the ‘Law’ as God’s greatest gift to His beloved people. The Book of Deuteronomy, which you could call THE book of the Law says "For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?… “ (Dt.4:7-8)
The ancients saw the Law as God’s way of being with His people to protect and guide them through the dangers which surrounded them. Far from an imposition they saw it as a blessing, a priceless treasure given to them by a loving God.
It’s a similar situation with another concept from the Old Testament - the Fear of the Lord. Why would I want to be afraid of God? Why would I think it a gift to fear Him? The word which we translate as “fear” is in fact very difficult to render into English. It really means an attitude of watchful expectancy. It’s like you’re waiting for a beloved friend whom you haven’t seen for years - it’s the constant glances at the window to see if they’re coming. So again, it’s not a negative, it’s a positive. It is an expression of our longing for God to come; a declaration of our joyful anticipation of his coming into our world.
When the bishop chose to quote Psalm 119 he wasn’t using it as a threat but rather as an invitation. God invites (He NEVER forces) us to follow His law, not because He wants to restrict our freedom but because He wants to offer us greater freedom. To give a silly example: if we didn’t have a law to say we must drive on the right hand side of the road, but everyone was “free” to drive wherever we liked, none of us would get very far!!
OCA is an invitation - an invitation to say “yes, these things which are supported by this campaign are valuable and I want to play my part in making sure the People of God in Central Florida are able to continue building God’s kingdom.” If you read on in Psalm 119 you come to vv. 34ff - “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.”
Thank you for your generosity and your loving concern.