Monday, 4 March 2013
Motivated by fear
“Father … is it wrong to go to Confession for the wrong reasons?” asked Leonard one day whilst helping Father Ignatius in the Sacristy.
“And what do you consider the wrong reasons?” asked the priest gently.
“Well Father … I think a lot of Christians are hypocrites … they only go to church and go to Confession because they’re afraid of going to hell!”
“I would have thought these are the right reasons,” replied the priest with a smile, “but I see what you mean …”
“The thing is …” interrupted Leonard, “if there was no hell, or fear of hell, I wonder how many people would bother to go to church?”
Father Ignatius laughed.
“Many have said that the church invented hell to keep the faithful under control.” said Father Ignatius, “but then … Jesus did warn us many times about hell … so it must exist.
“When God loved us He also invited us to love Him back in return. He did not wish to force our hand in any way … It’s a choice we have to make freely. To love Him back or not.
“God’s love for us is so much that He wishes us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That’s His invitation to all of humanity.
“The alternative to going to Heaven is going to hell. To be separated from God and from His love for ever. It’s a bit like the many parables that Jesus told about someone having a party, or a feast, and inviting everyone yet people choose not to attend.”
The priest paused a little, as he usually did when he wanted to press home a point.
“God loves us … and He invites us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven,” repeated Father Ignatius slowly.
“Or we may choose to turn down His invitation and spend eternity in hell.
“Now is that forceful on His part do you think? It seems a pretty clear choice to me … go to the party or the feast to which you are invited … or turn Him down and go freely your own way …
“I can see how some people might think this unfair … and that we really have no choice because the consequences are so horrendous that any sane person would choose to accept God’s invitation. Yet … having said so, there are many who do turn down the invitation, and choose not to believe in God’s very existence, never mind accepting His love.”
Father Ignatius stopped once again. He thought that maybe this was getting a bit too heavy for poor Leonard to grasp. He tried another approach.
“Ideally Leonard … we should go to church because we want to … because we want to thank God for what He has done for us … and because we wish to receive Him in our hearts through the Holy Sacrament of Communion. It’s like visiting a friend whom we like very much, and we like being with them and in their company.
“Ideally … we should go to Confession because we are truly sorry that we have hurt God … because we feel remorse for what we have done … and because we promise we will genuinely try to do better with our lives. It’s like making up again when we’ve fallen out with a friend over an argument …
“This is all ideally … as I say.
“Yet … as you say … some people do these things out of fear. They attend church out of fear, take Communion out of fear and go to Confession for the same reason. They see God as a vengeful master who will punish them unless they do these things.
“It shouldn’t be so Leonard … and I suspect God is hurt when He sees us doing things out of fear. This is the very God who sacrificed His Son who died horribly on the Cross for us. He did it out of love … not as a means to command fear from us …”
“Yes Father …” mumbled Leonard.
“OK …” continued Father Ignatius, “let us consider how that fear you speak of … the fear of hell … gets into this whole matter and muddles our thinking.
“Who introduced fear into the equation do you think?
“It is the devil … is it not?
“He whispers into our ears … you really don’t want to be here in church do you? Especially on a lovely sunny day like today. You’re only here because you’re afraid of God. In fact everything you do is because you fear Him … take courage … stand up to Him.
“Sounds familiar does it not? Almost the same words whispered to Adam and Eve when He told them to stand up to God.”
“Gosh … I never saw it this way …” said Leonard.
“So to answer your original question Leonard …” said Father Ignatius, “it is wrong to go to Confession, or to church for the wrong reasons …
“But the wrong reasons are not the fear of ending up in hell, these are genuine reasons all right … the wrong reasons are listening to the devil and putting credence to his tricks …
“Do you see and understand the subtle difference?”