Probably the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around in regards to this possible “Catholic Conversion” thing is… the rules.
All. The. Rules.
There are rules for this. And rules for that. And rules for this person. And rules for that life event. And rules for the circumstance over there.
- You need to go to Mass and every Holy Day of Obligation.
- You need to receive the Eucharist at least once a year during Easter.
- You need to go to confession.
- You need to believe everything the church teaches.
- You need to tithe.
- You need to fast.
- You need to do this, you can’t do that, and it’s strongly recommended you don’t do the other thing either.
There are rules for everything: Marriage, kids, sex, work, thinking, doing, praying, eating. You name it and there’s a rule for it.
As a Protestant, it’s just too much. All the rules have been one of the biggest hurdles for me in discerning whether or not to join the church. In fact, they’re one of the big reasons for my visit with my priest friend last week to tell him, “Nuh-uh. No way. Not gonna happen.”
How can anyone follow all those rules?!
You see, it all started with this little, insignificant video laying out what constitutes a “practicing Catholic” and what one must do to be in “good standing” with the church.
Well! The whole thing made me downright indignant! I mean, my hands were on my hips and I was this close to flipping my hair and using phrases like, “Listen here, mister!”
I mean, no “institution” is going to tell me what I can and cannot do. And no “institution” is going to tell me if I’m in “good standing”. I mean, who are you to tell me? Where’s your authority? That authority can only come from God. You can’t tell me what to do! (Yes, as a matter of fact, I do see the irony in that argument.)
And even though my priest friend gave me all the right answers about “rules”… (Why are rules necessarily a bad thing? We have rules for everything else – from driving cars to using computers. We don’t have to follow the rules – but they’re for our own good…) I just wasn’t in a place to listen. I was still too annoyed that someone else thought they could tell me what to do.
So, I pushed it to the back of my mind and figured I’d deal with it later. Way later. Much, much later. Possibly never.
And then an interesting thing happened.
Today I was talking with a friend about the Catholic church, and she was complaining about all the rules. She just didn’t understand why they thought they could impose so many rules – it all felt too controlling and unmerciful to her. That’s when I started to notice a weird tingling sensation in my chest that tends to happen when someone says something I don’t agree with. And I suddenly realized I was feeling indignant. And I realized this indignation was due to someone criticizing the Catholic church. And so in a desperate attempt to somehow defend the church, I noticed myself mimicking everything the father had told me just last week and..
It suddenly. Made. Sense.
Of course there were going to be rules! There are rules for everything we do! There are rules for how to dress at work. There are rules for how to behave in public. There are rules for properly upholstering your furniture. There are rules for managing your health. Rules aren’t bad. They don’t keep us down or control us. They’re just a part of life!
The Catholic church gets a bad rap for having all these rules, but the fact is, Protestant churches have rules too… they just don’t talk about them very often. (Which, come to think of it, is kind of strange…) Rules like…
- Not having sex outside of marriage.
- Not marrying outside the Christian faith.
- Confessing your sins before God and asking forgiveness.
- Righting the wrongs you’ve done.
- Making sure your heart is right with God before receiving communion.
- Attending church on Sunday.
These are all rules based on God’s word and His plan for our lives. He set up these rules for our own good. I’ve always known this and always accepted this, but I never really saw them as “rules” before because they were never really enforced by a church. I think that’s what was tripping me up.
The Catholic church does make a bigger deal out of these rules. It enforces them, if you will. But, why do we get so bent out of shape about it? So what if they enforce those expectations? Isn’t that what they should be doing? Rather than white-washing everything and saying, “Well, as long as your heart is right with the Lord you can choose to live how you want…” No! Isn’t it a good thing if the church is willing to say, “Dude. That’s not right. Knock it off.” ?
No one wants to be told what to do and how to do things, but if we can’t receive instruction, how are we ever going to grow? If our parents never said no; never set up any boundaries; never taught us the right way to do things; where would we be? If we want to grow in virtue, we have to be willing to receive instruction. Plain and simple. The rules just aid in our growth. What’s wrong with that?