“I would become Catholic, but the church seems too legalistic. Shouldn’t we be focused on Jesus and not on extras?”
Boy can I relate with this assertion. If the Catholic Church is indeed the Church that Jesus established, then what’s up with all the rules? Didn’t Jesus come to give us joy in its fullness (Jn 10:10)? Didn’t he also say the truth would set us free (Jn 8:32)? If so, the Catholic Church must be the opposite of what our Lord wanted.
Before considering the Catholic Church I was very much of the opinion I cited above. If we all love Jesus, then what’s the big deal? As I journeyed home to the Catholic Church, however, my thinking on “unnecessary rules” began to shift dramatically. The biggest insight I gained was realizing that some rules, instead of simply being restrictive, can be freeing. Confused yet? Hang in there!
Take the Church’s teaching on not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. If you are a Catholic, you might just see this as another thing we “do”. To my non-Catholic readers, this might seem to be some strange “Catholic thing.” Far from being just another cog in the wheel or a made up tradition, this particular practice is designed to help get us to grow our relationship with God. So how is avoiding that turkey sandwich on Friday supposed to do that? Well, like all the church’s teachings, a no to one thing usually means a yes to something greater. By saying no to the burger and steak, I am training myself to detach from the fleeting pleasures of this world and thereby attach myself to Christ. The Church is desperately trying to help us overcome our addictions in this life, so that we will be prepared for the one to come.
In a 1995 U. S. homily, St. John Paul ll stated:
“Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
In order to fulfill this freedom to do what we ought, we sometimes have to deny ourselves of what we would like to do. That may be an attachment to sin, or it could be an unhealthy attachment to something that threatens to take God’s place in our lives. In any case, the Catholic Church is not here to burden her members with rules and regulations. Rather, she exists to sanctify her members and to give them true happiness and freedom from the source of both, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peace be with you!