The most common complaint I hear about the Catholic Church is that it has too many rules. As a former Catholic schoolboy turned college and adult atheist, I once held this belief.
As my faith has grown, and as I’ve grown in my ability to live by the authentic teachings of the Church, even as a wretched sinner who all too often fails, I’ve found that the opposite is true.
The Church actually has very few rules, and what rules it does have are based on the two greatest commandments Our Lord gave us:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke: 10:27).
Follow these two commandments, and everything else the Church asks of you falls into place. Following them means you love God and neighbor. Breaking them means you love yourself, even if you deceive yourself into believing you love God and others.
Each of the vices we give in to actually is the result of breaking one of these commandments. Each is the result of self-love. We must, of course, love ourselves as our neighbor, but never at the expense of God and neighbor.
All of the Church’s rules are built on the foundation of Our Lord’s two commandments.
Every time you miss Mass, or Divine Liturgy as we call it in the Eastern churches, without a good reason – and by this I mean, for instance, that you’re extremely ill or stranded on a desert island – you put yourself above God, impeding your love for your neighbor.
Any time you cheat, steal, lie, or eat or drink to excess you put yourself above God and neighbor.
You may believe you’re helping your neighbor by using contraceptives, but instead you’re putting yourself above God, harming yourself, possibly physically, and your neighbor. The same is true of abortion.
In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, the seventh century monk St. John Climacus reminds us of the danger of self-love:
“If anyone could see his own vices accurately, without the veil of self-love, he would worry about nothing else in this life” (Step 10:10).
He is necessarily blunt: Self-love blinds us to sin and prevents us from truly knowing the will of God, and so truly knowing ourselves. Such a person is blind to love.
The book we use for Divine Liturgy at the mission where I serve includes St. John Climacus’s maxim in a section to help us examine our consciences.
Along with St. John Climacus’s maxim on self-love, the book also includes lists of the virtues and vices, how we participate in the sins of others and what it means to do good deeds – or how we bring our faith to the world.
Some might consider these lists as just another instance of the Church burdening us with rules; instead, following them frees us to express our love for God and neighbor in daily life more fully.
Out of the short list of what are called the three companions – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – grow two that total fourteen.
Similar to how the Ten Commandments are contained in Our Lord’s two commandments, the Spiritual Works of Mercy and Corporeal Works of Mercy grow out of almsgiving and are made possible by prayer and fasting.
Prayer helps us to know the will of God. Fasting helps us to know and discipline ourselves. Almsgiving allows to us to express our love for neighbor because we love God.
In addition to performing these good deeds, Catholics also are required to obey the Five Precepts of the Church, which cover participating in the Eucharistic celebration as a community, confessing our sins, receiving Holy Communion, fasting and practicing abstinence, and supporting the Church.
Each of these precepts points to Our Lord’s two commandments; each rewards us with self-control and so helps us in our battle to defeat self-love.
At every step of the way on our spiritual journey, St. John Climacus teaches that we must rely on self-examination:
“Regarding every vice and every virtue, we must unceasingly scrutinize ourselves to see what point we have reached…” (Step 26:75).
With such self-scrutiny, one step up the ladder at a time, we shred the veil of self-love; shredding the veil of self-love rewards us with a greater love of God and neighbor.
The Church has rules, but they are very few and exist to help you defeat self-love; obey the rules of the Church and you’ll love God and neighbor, and even yourself, as God meant you to love.
As usual, simple, easy to follow and comprehend, thank you for your effort in keeping us always faithful to our believe.
God bless you in all what you are doing for us.
Thank you, Nick. Thanks for reading.
Great post as always, fascinating how the Holy Spirit is working today. I posted this icon from your chapel earlier today on facebook and here you are writing about it :-] We are in a battle with the enemy in what are heroic times as we have become the counter culture attempting to over come this self centered world. It’s obvious our Lord wants us to know this :-] and words well spoken in overcoming this battle :-]
Thank you, Brandon. Keep fighting the battle!
Very good. It is really very simple to be a good Catholic if you put God first.
I guess what I hear most often are complaints regarding steps of Catechism, Confirmation, Annulments, etc. We so often are held in comparison to Protestants, where these steps are likely to take no time or commitment. For many, being a good Christian of any denomination is difficult. But you are correct Nancy………that’s what you have to do!
Thank you, Nancy. Your words echo and underscore Our Lord’s words in yesterday’s gospel in the Byzantine rite: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6: 33). “Put God first” — words to live by!
The depiction of the nun with the ruler brings back memories of me as a 5yr.old who was 5 minutes late for Sunday Children’s Mass due to the fact my dad could not find a parking space and just let me off at the auditorium where the Children’s Mass was being conducted……At the top of the choir loft stairs was Sister Consulata who had the ruler handy and ordered me to make a fist in order for her to hit them real hard ……This was to make an impression not to be late for Mass again…..Needless to say, Sunday Masses were with the adults in the main Church…..Sure did not want Sister Consulata to hit me again……Still Roman Catholic and travel a great distance to hear the TLM every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation……Thanks for sharing Father…..
Thank you, MaryJo. May the Lord bless your commitment, and endurance! Many years!
The Sixth Precept of the Church is to observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage and not to solemnize marriage at forbidden times.
The “official” Church list is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2041-2043), which lists five. Dr. Edward Peters, a canon lawyer, writes at his CanonLaw.info site that some other lists include a sixth on marriage. You also can find others that add a seventh. Christ Our Pascha, the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, lists six. Three essentially are the same as that found in the CCC; one combines two of the CCC, that on Confession and reception of Holy Communion. The fifth concerns immoral publications and internet sites. The sixth concerns marriage: “Not to hold weddings or dances during prohibited times.” The precept you add is a good reminder of the sanctity of marriage.