I have never been interested in fishing, hunting or camping, so it is very surprising that one of my favorite shows on television right now is Lonestar Law on Animal Planet, where cameras follow Texas Game Wardens in their work. The show is fascinating! Not only did I know very little about the duties of our Game Wardens, I have been amazed at the extensive laws that exist to protect our natural resources and wildlife.
To give a few examples of regulations I was not aware of, for those who fish above a certain age, you must have a fishing license plus be aware of very detailed rules regarding where you can fish, how many fish you can keep and the specific size requirements of various species. With oyster harvesting, there are rules on how and when they are obtained and strict size requirements. All those who hunt must have a hunting license plus education and you must know all the regulations related to the animal you are hunting (whether it is deer, dove, pronghorns, etc). There are certain endangered and protected species one must be aware of as it is illegal to kill any of them for any reason. And the list goes on. And even though the laws are extensive, the Game Wardens rightly expect anyone involved in these activities to know and obey them.
But what has made the show so valuable for me is, not only have I learned the laws, the show explains the reasoning behind them. At the heart of all the laws are the protection of the wildlife and the ecosystems within which they live. On one episode, a man was fishing without a license with no regard to the size, quantity or species of fish he had caught. When he was confronted and given multiple citations, he ridiculed the fact the game warden pulled out a ruler and measured each of the fish. The officer explained that the regulations regarding the size of the fish were not simply to be arbitrary. Each year, scientists are involved in helping to determine the acceptable sizes and quantities that fishermen can keep with the goal of protecting future fish populations and the natural resources. This is the same situation with all the rules and regulations the Texas Game Wardens enforce – to protect life.
In watching this show, there are repeat offenders who are simply criminals who have no regard for the law. They do not try to understand why the laws are in place nor do they care about anything but themselves. But the vast majority do want to respect the law. Some will unintentionally break a law and will immediately call the Game Warden to turn themselves in. Others admit their ignorance, express their contrition and intend to educate themselves on the laws to avoid illegal activity in the future.
A Parallel with Our Life in the Church
As I watched these episodes, I saw a parallel with our life in the Church. Too often I have heard people tell me either there are “too many laws in the Church” or that “the Church is trying to impose her views on me” or some people simply reject her laws – “I do not agree with her on certain things so I live the way I think is right for me.”
Some of this mindset is due to the fact we live in a world where there is the plague of relativism and selfishness where some people will disregard authority and laws regardless. But I do not believe most people in the Church fit this description. Rather, I believe that the attitudes towards the laws of the Church are largely because, like in Lonestar Law, many people either see these rules as arbitrary or simply fail to understand the foundational purposes for them.
The laws enforced by the Game Wardens are not senseless and irrational – all exist to protect life. Similarly, the Church teaches us laws that exist to safeguard us but her mission is far greater – everything she does is for the salvation of souls. She does not invent unreasonable laws nor does she demand our obedience like a dictator. As an instrument of Christ, she speaks the truth in all things. But because of our tendency to choose to live selfishly rather than as the persons God created us to be, our loving God entrusted His laws to the Church to show us the path that leads to infinite happiness, peace and joy found only in heaven.
Though there are different expressions, “all law finds its first and ultimate truth in the eternal law” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1951), thus at the heart of our obedience is docility not to the Church but to God Himself. And His laws are not commanded to us by ‘God the tyrant’ but are offered to us by God our loving Father who desires what is best for us. The laws that exist within Christianity, which are taught firmly and faithfully by the Church, are for our benefit because God calls us all to be Saints. And as a form of divine assistance, these laws explicitly define the path saints in Christ will tread.
Choosing Obedience or Disobedience
If a person chooses to hunt or fish, this cannot be done recklessly. He must be aware of the regulations or face the consequences, and his choice to act illegally not only harms the ecosystem but is dangerous for all involved. Similarly, as Catholics, we too should study the faith more fervently and understand the laws of the Church. We should not be content with being lukewarm or ignorant. If we truly desire to live our faith more authentically, the Church will show us the way to do this. We should not only be aware of the divine laws she teaches, we must also embrace them as they exist ultimately to lead us to heaven. But if we ignore the rules and choose to live guided merely by our feelings and emotions, this careless way of living will lead not only to disaster for ourselves but also for others.
I still have no desire to hunt or fish but I now have a far greater respect for Game Wardens and the laws of Texas. I hope that as people see the value of these types of human laws, people will more greatly revere those that are divinely revealed since the consequences of obedience or disobedience to these laws are eternal.