Benedict is About Relationship with Christ, Not Rules

If you consult the Mainstream Media (MSM), you’d swear that all Benedict (aka “God’s Rottweiler/The Enforcer/Former Hitler Youth”) did is concoct new Rules and then “lash out” or “crack down” on people for not keeping them.

Given this view of the Faith, discussions in the press often break down into babble about mortal and venial sin. Little lists are bandied about and we are told, in the words of one MSM magazine: “Mortal sins are those that the sinner knows are serious but nonetheless decides to perform. They include the seven deadly sins as well as countless others, like witchcraft or skipping out on Sunday Mass.” Venial sins, we discover, don’t tick off our inexplicably irritable God as much, but if they pile up, he might lose his always-hair-trigger temper and damn us anyway. Happily, you can “wipe the slate clean” by Confession.

What is missing from all this? Any concept of life in Christ as relationship . Catholic life is, according to the MSM, rules written on a card and stuck to the refrigerator. Break rules on Card A and the Divine Administrator drops your personnel file in the Go to Hell tray for processing. Break rules on Card B and the Divine Administrator marks down the infraction. Earn enough infractions and the Sin Monitor Task Force transfers your personnel file to the “Go to Hell” tray. However, if you do the religious equivalent of filling out a waiver by going to Confession, the Divine Administrator will, for inscrutable reasons, shred your record and let you start your personnel file over.

The goal of the Christian life, in this scenario, is to die with your personnel file spotless (except maybe for a couple of infractions you can work off in Purgatory). Then God has to let you into Heaven, which is this beautiful park where your favorite dead people have been standing around waiting for you to arrive. Way to go! You did all the stuff you needed in order to pass and now you graduate to the ultimate happy retirement and go fishing!

What’s missing?: The notion of a life of virtue spent trying to cultivate a relationship with God never enters the picture. It’s just a question of keeping and breaking rules—with rewards entirely external to us. And nobody (in the MSM) really knows why one rule is more important than another. Indeed, some of the rules appear to have nothing whatever do with anything, if you judge by the portrayal of the MSM. A mortal sin to miss Mass? That one must have been stuck in by the Church to try to control people. When Benedict comes to America he’s probably going to crack down on people for stuff like that!

There’s no conception that Benedict’s real interest is in fostering relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why, when he writes an encyclical like Deus Caritas Est , the MSM are dumbfounded. What’s the Chief Bureaucrat of an organization devoted solely to the promulgation and enforcement of irrational rules doing talking about love ? They then translate this enlightenment of their Stygian ignorance about the Faith into the breathless announcement that Benedict has “grown”.

In the same way, Hell seems, in the mind of the MSM, to have nothing to do with relationship . I constantly meet people who think of Hell as an absurdly sadistic overreaction by a touchy God who gets irrationally angry when people don’t keep his arbitrary rules. There is not the slightest grasp that Hell is the "definitive self -exclusion" of a soul from the society of God who has done everything, including be tortured to death, to bring them close to him. Hell is not some arbitrary punishment that God sticks on us like postage stamps because we got too many infractions in the file or forgot to get a waiver. It is the human heart making the final choice to be bricked round in the furnace of itself—alone.

In short, people don’t seem to grasp that Heaven is simply the fruit of a life that pursues relationship with God on His terms and Hell is simply the fruit of a life that pursues its own course on its own terms. Mortal and venial sins are useful distinctions, to be sure. But if you turn them into another way of trying to be saved by law, you are stone deaf to the most elementary teaching of the gospel: that only Christ, not law, can save us.

Benedict is acutely aware of that, which is why he constantly refers us not to some mythical list of salvific rules and regulations, but to Christ. That’s going to be the real message he brings to our shores. God willing, even our journalists will start to figure that out while he’s here.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • nescalona

    Ain’t nothing wrong with followin’ rules. 🙂 It’s the least we can do for the Lord. But as you point out, that’s part of the relationship, not a substitute for it. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Well written.

    I always explain the “rules” as commands by a loving Father to keep us safe and healthy (rather than an attempt to spoil our fun…)

  • The problem with rules is minimalism. A minimalist is always seeking the maximum reward with a minimum effort. When in love, one is not a minimalist, but desires to all one can for the beloved. Minimalist do not fall in love with Christ, a requirement for a Christian. Love requires more not less of us, therefore this is one of the most dangerous diseases of our age.

  • sonjacorbitt

    I always tell my children, “If you love me, you’ll do what I say,” simply because that is what the Master Parent always tells me when I am tempted. It works so great on me, I thought I’d try imitating it with them. Never seen anything work so beautifully…

  • yblegen

    You seem to write in a way that has me laughing out loud every time. You are writing I am thinking. Unlike me, you have a way of getting to the point with examples and phrases that have me clutching my stomach because I am laughing so hard.

    You really have a gift. I am glad you are on our side.

  • Tarheel

    I wonder if the “MSM” has a “bunch of rules” both mortal and venial that apply to them? If so I think think Mark Shea probably broke one of their “cardinal rules” by effectively saying…”Yo dummy, read what the Pope is saying, not what you think he is saying.”

    If anyone reads what our Pope has wrote even before he was elected Pope then you will see that he has always been about “relationship with Christ.”

    Great article!

  • Warren Jewell

    Tarhhel notes of our Spirit’s and our own ‘il Papa’ that “he has always been about “relationship with Christ.”

    I’m thinking that Mark Shea is all about the same thing.

    Thank you, Mr. Shea, and God be with you and yours to His glory and your life everlasting. And, love beyond recounting.

    Oh, and having finished your trilogy to Mary, sir, I can only say that your love for God extends to His Mother, with sincerity and truth ‘Mark’-ed with pizazz.

  • Tarheel,

    A good book for reading…

    The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian

    How Radicals, Elitist, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom

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