Another theme that Father Cantalemessa developed in his talks at the bishops’ retreat was the unity that must exist between the Law and the Spirit that animates the Law. Father Raniero reminded us that both are essential in the spiritual life of anyone who wishes to “put on the mind of Christ”.
Father Raniero made one statement, in particular, that was striking. He said, “The law without the Spirit is dead, while the Spirit without the law is blind.” In other words, the power of grace needs to be concretized by the moral and ecclesial laws of the Church, so that it can bear great fruit. To think that we can alone discern how best to live our Christian life is foolish. On the other hand, to simply follow the precepts of the law without allowing the Spirit to guide, mold and challenge us to grow in faith, hope, and love is to run the risk of living an outwardly righteous life but one that does not bring us closer to the Lord. As the old song says, “you can’t have one without the other.”
This insight provokes a question for reflection. How often have you and I dismissed the demands of the moral, civil or ecclesiastic law in the name of “living by its spirit”? This dismissal can take many forms. For example, the Church asks everyone to either abstain from meat on Fridays as an act of penance or consciously substitute this act of penance with another form of penance to be done that same day. How often have we dismissed this precept and failed to do any penance on a given Friday? In such occasions, how can such a dismissive behavior help nurture the spirit of repentance and conversion that the precept is meant to foster? How can dismissing the law help foster the spirit it is intended to nurture?
In a world that encourages us to make false choices all the time, when we do it in our spiritual life and separate the Spirit and the Law, the spiritual consequences can be severe.
The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos!