Rules, Rules, Rules

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Making Sense of Church Requirements


Catholicism is hard. At least that’s its reputation. All those rules. … As if the Ten Commandments weren’t enough, the Church seems to add even more. Go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Fast or abstain on certain days. Go to Communion once during Easter time, and more. People wonder, Why can’t we just love God?

The thing is, keeping the rules is part of loving God. This isn’t me talking. It’s Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And since he gave us the Church — “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”(Matthew 16:18) — the Church’s commandments are his commandments. Besides, most of the rules come straight from the Ten Commandments.

All the same, Jesus knew that people find commandments annoying at times. Rules as rules feel like a waste of time. They get you out of bed when you’d rather be sleeping; they serve up peanut butter when the neighbors are grilling. You get the picture.

The rules only make sense when there is love.

Let’s say you rearrange your schedule so you can go to Mass on All Saints’ Day, November 1. Tons going on. Work. Kids are in school. Oh, brother. But you do it because it’s a sin not to. Seems like a crummy reason, but it’s not. That’s a gift you are offering to the Lord. You are trying not to offend him. He can work with that.

While you are there, you start thinking of the saints. Some you know are in heaven — like St. Teresa of Kolkata; some you don’t know — like maybe one of your grandparents. On this feast day, I think of my grandmother, who forgave and cared for a mean stepparent, who was a loving mom to her own five kids plus two orphans, who lived humbly and honestly, and who walked to Mass daily well into her 80s. I pray for her soul, but I also think, Yeah, Grandma probably went to heaven just like St. Teresa of Kolkata. And this is the day I celebrate God in her.

Someday I want to be like her. Once you get used to the rules, you stop thinking of them as things that limit your freedom. You start to reap the results. Steve Martin, hosting the Academy Awards, once quipped about a great-looking young actor, “I would do anything to look like him — except exercise and eat right.” Right. But once we do those things …“I really regret that workout”… said no one ever.

Aren’t we that way with everything? We make our kids eat right and exercise and do their
homework. They think we’re just bugging them, but we’re actually guiding them to become healthy and strong and smart.

Jesus doesn’t want to take away our freedom; he wants to give us his. The rules are there to take the guesswork out of it. They show us how to love God and how to become more like him.


Susie Lloyd has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2017.


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