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Mercy and Truth, Love and Law: Take the Road to Emmaus

January 3, AD2017

There is a lot of talk in the church these days about mercy verses the truth, or what is also known as love verses the law. I am not here to comment on our Pope and Cardinals, except to say pray for all of them. They are our shepherds and deserve our respect and our fervent prayer. I am here to talk about the tension that has always existed. This tension is a beautiful thing, meant to draw us deeper, and love and law are meant to go together and not be divorced from each other. This is because of the Paradox of God;

He is both charity and judgement.
He is mercy and justice.
He is love and law.
He is infinite and became finite taking on the form of a human.
He is the King of Kings who entered the world as the smallest of the small in a manger.
He is beyond the horizon and totally intimate.
He is the All in All who emptied Himself to nothing on the Cross.
He is abundance and poverty.
He is human and divine.
He IS.

He Is Love and Law

This is our wonderful God. He is present daily to us in the Eucharist. He is a mystery. Because of our limited human understanding he left us the law as a guide for life. Because of our love for Him, we respond by following the law. It is a tightrope we walk when we come into contact with other people.

As an RCIA and Adult Faith Formation Coordinator, I come across people all the time with many different stories. When people come to me, they are usually having an awakening. These are the broken people, and I see our church as the field hospital Pope Francis spoke of. I have heard everything. I have heard about drugs, adultery, pornography addiction, and abortion, divorce and remarriage. Usually when they come in the door to me, they have hit a point in their life when they realize something needs to change, so they are seeking out that change. Many of them have a nominal relationship with God, if they have one at all, but here they are in front of me seeking an answer. It is my job to introduce them to the person of Christ.

There are several ways this could be dealt with. The first is, I could finger wag at them and shame them for their sin, even as some of them don’t recognize fully what sin is. But in my estimation, this would amount to kicking someone while they are down and this most likely would cause them to run out the door. The second is I could tell them they aren’t doing anything wrong, but that would be a lie.

As I was trained in RCIA I was always told to follow Jesus’ example of conversion. We called it the “Road to Emmaus” model. This means the very first thing we should do is listen their story. Then we walk with them. Then we reveal the truths to them.

So for the woman that had an abortion, I would never start by telling her how sinful she is. I sit and listen to her story. I see her suffering. I tell her God loves her. I walk with her, teach her how to pray, and pray for her. I ask her to pray for a relationship with the Lord. We as a parish community welcome her into the community, and my Priest builds a relationship with them. We introduce her to the power of Confession, Eucharist and Adoration. In time as her relationship with the God she originally said, “no” to is repaired she is able to repent and say, “yes.” She can say yes because someone walked the path through the suffering with her. Someone loved her enough to show her the truth instead of judging and condemning her.

Nothing gives more joy than to see a person who didn’t even know what the Eucharist was, drop to their knees in adoration in front of the Monstrance in full recognition of the God they now KNOW. We see true conversion when we see the tears of joy and relief after a Confession because of true repentance. It is the witness of the beautiful relationship of our Lord with a person as He manifests Himself in the Sacraments. It is not intended for just RCIA, it is for all of us. Listen, love, and watch truth be revealed.

A Balance Between Love And Law

It is a narrow road we walk because this narrow road is filled with so much abundance we need not stray.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and many enter through. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13

The love and the law are meant to be in union together. In following the law as a response to God’s call to us, we empty ourselves, fill up with God, and become more of who we are supposed to be. A beautiful tension of the emptying of self-will, the filling of God’s will. This is what St. Catherine of Siena meant when she said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

The law was given to us by God to show us the path to happiness and holiness. But as St. Paul says,

“If I speak in tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1: Corinthians 13:1

1: Corinthians 13:1

If we spend our time in the law shooting poison arrows of judgment at the souls of others, without examining ourselves, we have not love.
On the other hand, if we disregard the law, saying we are doing it in the name of love, we reject what Christ Himself said,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

The law was written on our hearts by the love of God, and when we fill ourselves with the Divine Will the law helps us find true freedom, which is Jesus Himself. Our response to God’s loving gift should be to apply this law to ourselves, taking the narrow path. When we do this we walk in joy, peace, and bold confidence, knowing that God has filled the hole in our hearts to make us the best possible person we can be. Others take notice and are drawn in because they recognize beauty and joy.

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23

Live the beautiful tension of love and law. Take the narrow road. Christ will fill you with His Divine Will.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

My name is Susan Skinner and I am a lifelong Catholic. I attended all Catholic schools including the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I am a mother to 3 children and a wonderful husband and we now reside in the South. I love living in the South. Though I have always identified as Catholic, it was the murder of my friend in 2010 that brought a transforming change to my heart and made me a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I now make it my mission to spread His Love and Good News everywhere I go. Jesus isn’t just someone we should just know about, He is someone we should KNOW, personally. He has made me new. I am now the Adult RCIA and Faith Formation Coordinator of a Catholic Church where I live and I know God has brought me to where I am. I am nothing without him.

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  • Mark McCann

    Lovely piece. I love relational ministry. Having worked with teens for years, I found myself swimming in that tension all the time. Eventually, I came to understand in some mysterious way how it’s all one in the love of Christ. I’ve seen my share of “finger wagging” and judgement without the compassion. For me, there is an inner empathy that takes over and in the stories I become connected both to the person and to the Savior. Your writing really connected with me. Great job!

    • Sue

      Thank you Mark!