“Ask a Priest: Can God Force You to Obey Him?”

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Q: I was baptized as an adult, but there are some things that I don’t understand that the Catholic Church teaches. I am sorry for the multiple questions, but I have no one else to ask. Why does the Church teach that God dwells in our hearts? Can God force himself into someone’s heart? What does God do there? Can God force you to obey him or manipulate you against your will to force you to do something from your heart? What about Mary? Can she force you to do something, force you to obey her, or force you into following God’s will? Why does the Church teach that a priest can stand and act in the place of God? Can a person approach God on their own in prayer or do they always need to go through a mediator, like a priest or a saint? – R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It seems that you didn’t receive very good catechesis (instruction) before your baptism.

Your e-mail uses words such as “force” and “manipulate.” You seem to view God as some kind of heavy-headed taskmaster.

First, it is good to remember that God is a loving God. He created us out of love, and he only wants the best for us.

God doesn’t force his love on anyone. He gave us free will so that we could freely choose to love him and follow him.

God loves to unite himself with us. His indwelling in our souls – what we could also call sanctifying grace – is an act of love and favor on us. His indwelling helps us to grow in virtue. He nudges us to avoid evil and do good. There is nothing violent about it.

Being beloved children of God, we can be said to be part of the family. We don’t have to go through life alone. We can help one another with our prayers and example, and we also have the saints to intercede for us. The greatest of them is Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus.

This is fitting, since her “yes” at the Annunciation opened the way for the Second Person of the Trinity to take on human flesh and dwell among us. And she stood by Jesus throughout his life, even up till his death on Calvary. It’s no wonder she can approach him for favors. And be assured: The Blessed Virgin is the gentlest of Mothers. She’s not about force.

As for the role of priests: It’s part of Jesus’ plan for the Church that he appointed the apostles and their successors (the bishops) to teach and govern and administer the sacraments. Priests share in this role under their bishops.

Jesus wants to help us through the sacraments and through the preaching of the Word. This is a lot of what priests do. We are agents of God’s grace. This helps to make his love more present, more tangible in the world.

An analogy could be found in the case of parents. They cooperate with God to bring new life into the world. Moms and dads give us life and raise us and teach us about love in a very practical way. They reflect the love of God for us in a singular way.

Now, the mediation of a priest doesn’t mean that people can’t pray to God. They should pray to God every day, all the time. It’s just that the ordinary means for certain graces — such as those in the sacrament of confession and the Eucharist — are mediated through a priest. Again, this is part of Jesus’ plan.

It might be helpful to dedicate some time to studying the faith. You might want to get a copy of the Youth Catechism (YouCat) or the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.

You might also try listening to Catholic radio if it’s in your area. A short book that might help you is Interior Freedom by Father Jacques Philippe.

If there is one lesson to learn, it’s that God isn’t about force. He is about love.

Count on my prayers.


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