Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Lent Project #4 Nitpicky Church Rules

(Fell off the blogging bandwagon due to life getting busier, laptop refusing to work, and birthday week! Hoping to get back on track now in time to complete 9 blog posts in 3 weeks.. aargh.)

Have you ever...

Gulped down a cup of hot tea while watching the clock because you woke up late, and wanted to make sure you weren't breaking your 1 hour fast before receiving Communion?

Skipped the chicken curry at an event on a Friday in Lent, even though it looks REALLY good?

Felt the growling hunger of 1 normal meal + 2 little meals which do not equal a normal meal on a loong Good Friday or Ash Wednesday?

Forced yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning after a late night Saturday party on a holiday somewhere, just so you would make it for Sunday Mass?

Or maybe you're one of the people who feel "God doesn't care about that stuff" and "I feel as close to God as a park bench so why does it matter if I show up at church?" or "How could God possibly care if I ate my sandwich a half an hour before Communion or an hour?" or "How could missing Sunday Mass possibly be a mortal sin?"

I don't really blame you. Some of our rules sound stupid, or nitpicky. Especially in the day and age of 'Throw out the stupid rules!'and 'Spirit of the law, not the letter', it's easy to think of most rules as optional.

Why would anyone think they were important, and still follow inconvenient or hard-to-see-the-point-of rules? When it comes to many rules of the Catholic Church, most of us feel like Jesus and us have a special understanding where those things don't really matter, or He can make a special exception in our case.

Here is why I still follow even the nitpicky ones (as best as I am able):

1. I'm Catholic because I believe Jesus is the founder of the Catholic Church, and the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church in all her teachings, and even rules. So, it's not The Big Rule-Obsessed Catholic Church versus It's-All-Cool Homeboy Jesus. Jesus is the Head of the Church. If Jesus says casually missing Sunday Mass is a direct rejection of Him, then it is. If I didn't believe Jesus was the Head of the Church, and spoke through it, I wouldn't be Catholic at all.

2. There is grace in humility and obedience. That doesn't mean blind faith or blind obedience-just doing stuff because anyone says so. But it means taking seriously the faith I profess- I am no longer my own, I belong to Jesus. Trusting God has to mean something. I remember reading somewhere something to the effect that- If your faith allows you do to whatever you feel like at any given moment, and doesn't ask you to do anything hard, then it is not God that you worship, but yourself. Doing something because Jesus asks, affirms a relationship of trust and teachable-ness.

3. Jesus knows what is good for us. The disciplines He asks of us are out of love. When I fast for an hour before Communion, I am more conscious of what is about to happen, Who I am about to meet. I am consciously emptying myself physically and spiritually, instead of casually walking in, unaware of the Guest awaiting me. When I fast and abstain on Fridays, I enter into the suffering of my Jesus, the dying to myself and my bodily desires so that I can awaken my spiritual desires, experience both his death and resurrection in my body.

Simcha Fisher wrote about this a couple of times: How To Obey Like an Adult and Why It's Okay to Say I 'Have' to Go to Mass Today.

The Church gives us obligations because she knows we need them. This is an idea which sets the Church apart from so many other religions: the much-derided “rules and regulations” that the Church lovingly imposes show that the Church understands human nature. If we were only ever invited or encouraged, we’d hardly ever turn up. I’d like to think I’m different, but I know I’m not. [Read the rest here.]
The one thing many of us need to beware of though is the sin of the Pharisee from today's Gospel- of following rules for the sake of feeling good about ourselves, self-righteous, better than others, complacent before God; feeling superior or angry about those who don't do the same. If I find that I am more irritated than compassionate toward those who have no interest in walking in the ways of God, then I have forgotten the spirit, and the letter has become my God.

Lent challenge: Let us humbly seek God's will for us this Lent, as revealed to us by His Church, and obey Him out of love.

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