June - 2013


How Do Rules Lead To A Catholic Revolution
Joe Philip
Marriage: A Gift From God
Bishop W. Francis Malooly
1 of 2 articles

How Do Rules Lead To A Catholic Revolution

Joe Philip

Curtis Martin, founder and president of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) once said that “Rules without relationship, lead to rebellion.” I have taken that to heart. Looking at the rebellion in my own life, I see how often I was a man fighting a spiritual battle and not even realizing that because of sin, confusion, and distance from God, I was fighting on the wrong side.

There was heartbreak, brokenness, drama, loneliness, addiction. And added to that list, there were these ideas about God that I had. I did not believe He was on my side. He was part of the problem. He had rules. He had impossibly high expectations and unreasonable demands. He was just a law giver and it seemed that I was always on the run. I thought I was fighting for my freedom from God and his rigid rules. I did not know that The Law Giver was also the Lover, and the freedom I desired was what He was trying to give me all along.

I rebelled because I did not have a relationship. I rebelled because God's commands were rules that I did not want to be bound to. I rebelled because I did not really believe God's command was for me to be and for me to stay free all along.

I was losing a real spiritual battle because I was fighting on the wrong side. If it was up to me, I would have never had the joy I longed for. And then I met Him. I met Him and “He broke through my deafness. He broke through my blindness.” And as deep as my darkness was, He went deeper.

He came to meet me where I was. He came to heal me where I was. He came to bring healing, and then He called me to follow. The more I followed, the more I found that He was doing most of the work. Some of it happened instantly, most of it happened over time. He promised to never give up and I have learned again and again that His word is good.

There were rules still, but the rules took on flesh and blood. The rules suddenly meant something. They were not restrictive as much as they were radical and counter-cultural. They were winning me over and leading me onward.  They were revolutionary. They were things I struggled with but the struggle now was part of the journey of following after a God who first met me where I was. The rules were opportunities to love. Rules made sense because they were within a relationship.

As a former youth minister, DRE, and current Catholic high school theology teacher, I know that when a teen meets Jesus Christ, religion is suddenly revolutionary. It is exciting and alive. It is rousing and real. Healing, forgiveness, freedom, mercy, joy, and hope are no longer just words; they are experiences. They are things longed for. They are things that are actively being worked on. They are opportunities. They are memories from the past that give life in the present, in the here and now. This is the God that we can meet. Right now.

So, what are other ways that God meets us? For some it happens at a retreat when they finally took the chance and gave God a weekend of their life. For others, an accidental conversation with a stranger at just at the right time and place opens the heart to faith. Or maybe reading that the Bible that has been collecting dust on the mantle results in words leaping off the page and speaking to the heart.

For many, the experience of conversion, of turning life around, happens during the liturgy. What was once just fulfilling a Sunday obligation suddenly transforms when the realization hits them that Jesus—God himself—is really, truly, actually right before them. He was, is, and will always be present in the Eucharist. He was there when we were not present. He was there when we may have been physically present, but not paying attention.

In God's world, He writes love into everything that is true, good, and beautiful. Therefore, encountering Christ can happen in as many ways as there are people who Christ wants to encounter. It can be dramatic. It can be gradual. One way or the other, He wants it to happen and if you do as well, the question is, how can it not happen? How can He not be faithful to you? If you seek Him, really seek Him, you will find Him. 

Once you find Him—and once you let Him find you—love compels you to repentance. The Bible becomes your family story and you are aware that it is living, active, and life-giving. Sacraments are tangible and you have strength and courage even when you do not "feel" anything at all. Addictions, some small, some serious, are broken. Some relationships are mended while others are finally ended. You find courage to confess sins you have dreaded saying out loud. You find yourself committing to doing this often. You are willing to guard your heart while still learning to trust others again. Painful memories are healed. Rebels lay down arms. Prodigal children come home. And after all of this, how could you keep it to yourself? You begin to share your story, your relationship with God and His Church with others. You are imperfect, but you are letting Him constantly remind you of the most important thing—you are His. Rules, within a relationship with Christ, lead to a revolution. 


Joe Philip is a theology teacher and retreat coordinator for Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan. Joe and his wife, Tara, travel the country sharing their love for Jesus Christ and the Church by leading and speaking at youth retreats. They are blessed to be the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl.

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