‘I’m sure God doesn’t mind Father.’ I imagine many of my brother priests have heard this phrase at some time or another. It’s one I have heard multiple times and is used by lapsed and faithful Catholics alike, in all kinds of circumstances. There are a few words and phrases which really grate on me (if you have been reading my other blog posts you might have noticed this already!) and this, most certainly is one of them. What is more, it is not a phrase that I think should ever be used by anyone who calls him or herself a Catholic or a Christian, and here’s why:
The problem is with what is actually being said when someone says ‘God doesn’t mind’. To get to the heart of the matter it is necessary for us to go back to basics. To be a Christian is to profess belief in the Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the heart of our faith is the doctrine of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the eternal God enters his creation and becomes fully human. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity becomes Man and shares our human nature in all things, but sin. In becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us God has entered our world. (cf. Jn 1:14) Furthermore, the Church teaches us that ‘by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself, in some way to every human person.’ (Gaudium et Spes 22) Put very simply, God is involved in our world and God has united himself to our world at every level.
It is also true to say that creation only exists because God who is love wills it. On a very basic level, to love is to will the good of another. Existence is a “good” so to will existence, whether that be the existence of a flower or the existence of a person is an act of love. This willing of creation into existence is an act of love, which flows out from the very nature of God himself. The pinnacle of creation is the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. God loves humans so much that he became one of us, died a cruel and shameful death on our behalf and through the resurrection has opened the doors to eternal life with him. To say that God does not mind about anything at all, however unwittingly, demeans God. God is the supreme mind and he holds all things, at all time in mind. Scripture attest to this when St Luke’s writes, ‘are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God, and even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.’ (Lk 12:7) To say God does not mind is to say that God is indifferent or that something does not matter to God, everything matters to God! The Christian faith is a faith in a God who is involved at every level of our lives, there is no part of our lives which God is not bothered about.
The deeper issue with this phrase, however, is the way in which it is regularly used. It is often applied to circumstances to justify some kind of lapsed or lukewarm behaviour. Missing Sunday Mass for no good reason, for example. (By the way, being ill is a good reason, having to work to provide for home and family is a good reason, car breaking down is a good reason…going to see family members, or deciding to have a Sunday off is not a good reason!) The phrase is also employed to justify a lack a reverence in Church: talking and treating the Church or the sanctuary like any other meeting place, lack of reverence for the great mysteries we celebrate, lack of reverence for the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Often this lack or reverence manifests in not bothering to genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament or bowing to the altar, because ‘I’m sure God doesn’t mind, father!’
To say that God does not mind about these things is simply a denial of the basic tenants of our faith. God minds, because God holds all things in mind. But what is more, if we want to know what God thinks about these issues then we must examine the way in which we know anything at all about God. We know God, and we know what God wants of us because he communicates to us. He speaks to us and he revels himself to us. Revelation, through Sacred Scripture and Tradition as authentically interpreted by the Body of Christ (the Church), tells us what God is like and what he thinks about certain things. With respect to missing Mass on Sunday, it is hard to argue that God does not mind. Enshrined in the Ten Commandments is the Commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy. The Sabbath in Christian tradition becomes the Lord’s Day, the Day of Resurrection. Every Sunday we are first and foremost to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, worship him and appropriate this reality ever more into our lives. The Church teaches us that going to Sunday Mass, (worshipping God for all of one hour a week!) is the absolute bare minimum that we need in order to be able to live the Christian life – we need to do more if we can, but Sunday’s take priority. Furthermore, when Jesus was asked about which was the most important of the Commandments he said; ‘you must love the Lord your God, with all your heart with all you soul and will all your might, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mt 22:37, Lk 10:27, Mk 12:30) The whole of the law, the whole of Christian life hangs on these two commandments, this is what God thinks on the issue! To people who decide freely not to come to Mass on a Sunday but who maintain that they are Catholics and Christians I ask you: How by keeping away from Sunday celebrations are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart your soul and might?
On the point of reverence, the argument runs in parallel fashion: we know how we are supposed to behave and what we are supposed to do because we are told clearly, by Jesus, through the teachings of his Church. The words and example of Jesus himself should be enough. It is notable that the only time the gospels record Jesus as really angry to the point of throwing furniture around is when he drove the money changers out of the temple. The temple was being used for kinds of profane activities and this was simply not good enough, due reverence was not being shown: ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves’ Jesus says. (Mt 21:13, Mk 11:17, Lk, 19:45 cf, Jer 7:11)
How ever this phrase is used and whenever this phrase is used it is wrong, because God does mind. He minds because he loves us, he cares for us and interested in us, all of us. God loves us so much that everything we do and everything we are matters. God does mind!