Faith and Life,  General

Order and Rigidity

One of my most irritating traits is just how ordered I like things to be. My t-shirts and other clothes are all placed very neatly in the drawer and in the wardrobe and I know exactly where to go to get what I am looking for. They are placed in such a way that I can see – and retrieve – any particular item instantly. Not surprisingly, I also like lists; lists work and they make life a little easier – I know what needs to be done, and I know what remains to be done.

This sense of order and it’s various benefits is why we have a cycle of readings at Mass, rather than simply choosing one at random each time. Ordered readings take us through the story the readings are presenting to us, and so in a way that relates more closely to any particular point of the year.

Order is a good thing; it lets us know where things ought to be and where they are. It lets us know where we are – and where we ought to be.

But order can also be a negative thing for us, if we so allow it to be – it can stifle spontaneity. And spontaneity is – like order itself – generally a good thing.

The trouble with making and keeping things all very ordered – a place for everything and everything in it’s place – is that it can leave us quite ‘fixed’ in the way we do things and also in the way we look at things. We can become rather rigid of we are not careful. That rigidity can apply to any aspect of life. And it can apply to the religious faith we profess, too.

Pope Francis has spoken about this on several occasions. Last October, for example, he spoke about how we can imagine sometimes that holiness comes from a strict observance of particular laws, such that “a rigid religiosity, a rigidity that eliminates that freedom of the Spirit” can ensue. Anything which seeks to place limitations upon the action of the Holy Spirit is, of course, not a good thing.

Looking back at the Saints who have been our shining examples in the history of the Church, they were characterised by freedom of spirit, not by rigidity. They were open to the work and the action of the Holy Spirit – doing as He inspired them, going where He sent them. There is a prayer I pray each day and it contains the line, addressed to the Lord, “whose service is perfect freedom”. This ‘perfect freedom‘ is the antithesis of rigidity. It opens us to the service of the Lord, to seeking His will rather than our own.

Because I like things to be ordered, I have to be very careful that I do not place obstacles in the way of the path the Lord sets for me. I often fail in that intention, needless to say.

But thankfully, He is both patient and kind and His path seems to follow curves where I see only straight lines.

A Catholic writer living in the United Kingdom

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