I'm preparing to celebrate Mass this evening at the Newman Center for the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. Here's part of what I'll say:
In the first reading (Nehemiah 8:2-10) the people of Israel weep as they hear the Law of God proclaimed. Why? One reason is that they have just returned to the Promised Land from exile. They weep for joy to be back in their homeland where God's Law can be read publicly. But they also weep with sorrow, realizing that the reason for the disasters that befell them were the result of not following the Law they are hearing proclaimed. They and their ancestors had forgotten God and His Law. And God honored their choice to follow a different path which ended in disaster.
The reality is that God made humanity with a plan. To follow that plan leads to happiness; to reject that plan leads to unhappiness. It's as simple as that.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that God's commandments were not something that were imposed on us from above, but rather were built right into our nature. They are the instruction booklet that comes with every human being at birth.
Thus Ezra, in the first reading, tells the people to rejoice because they have found the instructions that had been lost and they will now know what to do.
Even then, the temptation to think we know better than God is always there. We want to change nature and create our own law. We want to ignore reality, the way God created the world, and be our own gods. In a recent meeting in the Vatican Pope Benedict called this "technological Prometheanism" and said: "This is a radical denial of the nature of the creature and child in man, which ends in tragic loneliness."
Jesus came as the obedient Son of the Father who, as Paul wrote, "did not deem equality with God something to be grasped" (Philippians 2:6). This is good news. Jesus comes as the Living Law of God who not only invites us to follow Him to eternal happiness but also empowers us to follow Him. How? Through the Eucharist we celebrate. Jesus gives Himself to us. In union with Him we now have the ability to follow the Law of God, the path that leads to happiness.