True Religion and the Law of God

“The law of God is his Word that guides man along the path of his life. It causes him to go out of his egoism and conducts him to the land of his true liberty and life.”

— Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, September 2, 2012.

During this past summer, the Holy Father has limited himself to brief audiences and statements. By all accounts his health has not been too good. Yet, even when he says only a few paragraphs, what he says is worth reading. Sunday’s Angelus, which is traditionally quite short, began with a reference to the Gospel of the Sunday. The law of God is a theme found in Hebrew religion. In Christianity it finds its completion “in love.” The law of God is His Word that guides us along the path of our lives. It leads us out of the “slavery of our egoism.” It teaches us “true liberty.”

In the Bible, the law is not seen as a “weight” or a limiting horizon but as the most precious “gift” of the Lord. It is the testimony of His paternal love, of His will to be near His people so that they might write together a great story of love. The Psalmist found the law of God to be his “delight” and happiness (119). In the Old Testament, he who speaks in the name of God transmits the law to the people. This is Moses. On the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses tells the Israelites to listen to the law and put it into practice when they enter into the land that the Lord would give them.

Yet here is a “problem.” When the people settled in the land and the law is deposited among them, they are tempted to replace their joy and security in something that is not any longer the Word of the Lord. They look to “material goods,” to “power,” to other “gods” which in reality are “vain.” They are idols. It always seems strange and perplexing that the Jews could repudiate their own laws so regularly and quickly. The law of God did not exactly go away from them, but too often it no longer remained the most important thing for them. The law became a kind of “covering” or outward show. The Scribes and Pharisees were concerned with what they wore, with how they were treated. Their lives followed other roads, “other rules,” the egoistic interests of individuals and groups.

Thus, religion can miss its authentic sense which is to live in the hiddenness of God to do His will. This is the truth of our being. If we do this, we would live well in true liberty. We can be in danger of using secondary things, which rather satisfy the human need to feel oneself in place of God. Here is a “grave risk” to every religion. Jesus encountered it in His time. It can be verified also in Christianity. Thus the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, how He chastises them for missing the main issues. The people, we read in Isaiah, honor God with their lips but are far from Him. Men follow their own law, not that of God.

This little comment of Benedict in an Angelus indicates his awareness of the temptations of our time, as they were temptations during the time of the Hebrews and in the time of Jesus. We make religion something external, how it looks. We do not pay attention to what goes on in our own souls. It is the function of a pope to remind us of these things.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).