“Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself back to me. Lo, I love you, but if my love is too mean, let me love more passionately. I cannot gauge my love, nor know how far it fails, how much more love I need for my life to set its course straight into your arms, never swerving until hidden in the covert of your face. This alone I know, woe outside myself and woe within, and all wealth but penury, if it is not my God.” Saint Augustine attractively depicts the love relationship between God and man, and man’s desperate need for a relationship with the living God. Yet, how does one pursue this enticing, ever-loving, and everlasting relationship? Is it a Christian’s duty to attend church, read the Bible, and pray? What’s at the heart of this beautiful longing? I believe the longing for Christ is universal and our duty to serve Him is instilled in our heart from the beginning of time.
Exodus 20:8 states, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Those words speak of a day set apart for worship. A day that looks different than every other day of the week. Why is going to church out of duty often considered just following the law for many Christians? I first go from a sense of duty and then allow Christ to transform my heart.
The Pharisees took the good, beautiful, and true purpose out of the law and made it only about strict adherence, as Jesus makes clear in the scriptures. “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Law is not bad. We need law. We need the sabbath. All God’s laws are good with a solid purpose for our growth in holiness. The sabbath grounds us in worship, rest, family time, and reminds us that we can’t make everything else in our lives idols. We must pursue Him.
Matthew 5:17 states, Jesus came to fulfill the law not abolish it. There are multiple reasons why one would go to church beyond the command to do so. Christ is present is the most momentous reason which certainly grows our relationship with Him. We are created for worship, community, and growth in Christ. Weekly church sustains these needed elements in our life.
It’s clear that church as duty may not grab hold of someone’s heart who isn’t invested. That’s true for anything in life. Yet, who am I to judge someone’s heart? If Christ really is present, I trust that God will grab hold of hungry hearts even when they don’t know they’re hungry. As parents, we don’t enjoy observing parents who parent only out of a sense of duty. It seems controlling with a lack of tenderness, compassion, and relationship. True growth and a beautiful life can only flourish when one gets to the heart of the matter. Although, does that mean duty is bad? I’ve observed parents with a deep sense of duty who make heroic choices. I also must parent out of a sense of duty at times. Unfortunately, I must discipline and do hard things beyond how I feel in the moment. In turn, my children grow from our rules.
I go to church because of my love for Christ, a desire for growth, community, out of a sense of duty, and the presence of Christ. I am grateful for the law that Christ proclaimed for us and the church continues to pursue. In my fallen nature I often don’t feel like going, yet once I am there I realize it was the very place I needed most.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Respect for laws inscribed in creation and the relations which derive from the nature of things is a principle of wisdom and a foundation for morality.” This pull and tug toward obedience and “what we think is freedom” set apart from the law is the common human struggle. Yet, when we realize that God’s laws have been inscribed on our hearts since the beginning of time and we obey, that’s where true freedom comes from.
How do the laws of old that Christ came to fulfill settle with you? Do you struggle with law or is it something you embrace? In my need and desperation, I’m grateful God inscribed everything I would need on my heart. Even when I don’t realize the Church kneeler and a humbled posture is what I need, He knows.