New York was flooded with excitement this past weekend as Pope Benedict XVI made his first visit to the city. People came from all over the country to be a part of this historic event (and to possibly catch a glimpse of the Pope-mobile!). Benedict used the trip to encourage the Catholics of our nation in their faith, in an almost evangelistic manner. The thing that interested me, however, was the focus of his message.
The Times wrote:
Before a crowd of nearly 60,000 people at Yankees Stadium, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday ended his first visit to the United States as leader of the Roman Catholic Church with a reminder to the faithful that “obedience” to the authority of the church is the foundation of their religious faith.
Obedience to the church as one of the foundations of Catholic faith is not anything new. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church has propagated this message. And let’s face it – it often comes as a breath of fresh air, for good reason, to those raised on the endless infighting and revisionism of American Protestantism. But what struck me most was the effect of this message on the people hearing it. The Times quotes some the responses. Here is one that stood out:
Efrem Menghs, a phone company salesman from Columbus, Ohio, said the experience had made him a better person. “I will look back and say I’m glad I came to this event,” he said. “I did something for God.”
I could say a lot about why I object to the Pope’s statement, but this response by Efrem brings up one of the most important reasons I disagree: it makes Christianity all about us. It is about our obedience, our action, our faithfulness, etc. The Law always casts its light on us. It, like Janet Jackson, asks, “What have you done for me lately?” The sad thing is our answer is never enough.
St. Paul writes, For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10). That is, the Law demands total and complete obedience. It demands perfection. So if it is up to us, as the Pope’s message implies, then the result will always be the same; we would be cursed.
Thankfully, St. Paul goes on to explain the true foundation of our faith. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
In other words, obedience is the foundation of the Christian faith, but it is Jesus’ obedience, not ours. That’s where our hope lies. The rest is just details…