I am pumped! We are organizing a table tennis tournament at the priory next week (in cloister) to determine who will be the undisputed Dominican table tennis champion of the priory. One of the things I am doing to prepare the brothers is instructing them on the basic rules of table tennis. These rules can be a bit intimidating and can seem a bit too restrictive of what one can or can’t do. If someone has been used to playing table tennis a certain way and all of a sudden gets told she has been doing it all wrong, then her chances of winning the gold medal can be seriously hurt. What used to be a wicked awesome serve in one’s basement can be reduced to mediocrity in order to conform to a bunch of highly technical rules.
It’s obvious, though, that we do need rules in order to play games. How else would two rivals know how to settle an account with each other by a competition involving a table, a net, a ball, and two paddles? But do we need to have official rules regulated by an international committee? Couldn’t we just make up our own rules, our own version of ping-pong? We could, and I think a lot of amateur players do just that: “If the ball lands in the trash can, that’s an automatic ten points!” It seems to be okay for the professionals to have their own set of rules and for the average Joe to have his.
This line of reasoning is typical of those who pit the objective teaching authority of the Church’s Teaching Magisterium against their own subjective moral code: “I do not need a bunch of men in pointed white hats to tell me what I need to do. I can use my own reason and my own experience to discern right from wrong.”
It is true that one’s reason and experience can help someone develop a certain sense of the order in things. For example, I can reason that putting my hand on a hot stove is probably not a good thing for me to do if I want to avoid pain. This reasoning can be based on a prior experience of an unpleasant contact with some other hot thing. But if my reason and my experience are my only tools for discerning right and wrong actions, what can be said for divine revelation? Does revelation simply confirm me in my moral philosophy? Should I have the power to judge the Magisterium as having it right or wrong when it comes to the interpretation of my world-view?
I don’t think so. There is much more to sacred authority—be it the Magisterium, Sacred Scripture, or God Himself—than the dictation of a bunch of rules for us to serve.
One of my favorite songs that our Dominican schola sings is If Ye Love Me by Thomas Tallis. The words are from The Gospel of John (14:15–17) as part of Jesus’ Last Supper Discourses. Here we are instructed by Jesus to keep his commandments, if we love him. The love of God is our motivation for following God’s laws. But there is much more than trying to force our wills to love Him. It is rather the act of love of Christ himself, his suffering and dying on the Cross, which actually transforms our world-view into a “God’s-eye view” of the world. It is through the wisdom of the Cross, which discredits the wisdom of the world, that we are given the eyes of faith to follow our Creator in His Goodness. In this manner, our minds are healed by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world and who gives us the knowledge of Truth in his Way.
We are transformed by revelation through the elevation of our experience by an encounter with Truth Himself. The rules laid out by God—through Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium—can be intimidating. They can seem restrictive of our freedom to do what we want. But if we believe that these rules are meant to transform us rather than inform us, to perfect us rather than suppress us, then we can put our confidence in the Spirit of Truth to grant us the freedom for excellence.
Image: Philippe Put, Ping-Pong