Has anyone ever tried to convince you that love is just a feeling? If so, you’ve been lied to. The notion that love is just that warm feeling you get about a cute guy or girl is, in fact, the greatest lie ever told. If we begin to believe that love is purely emotional then we begin to lay a very disappointing foundation for the rest of our lives. Society, unfortunately, through its use of media (especially) has distorted our understanding of love and has gone on to convince us that love can be fleeting; only temporary. Think about it. How many times do marriages end because the two simply fell out of love? Or how about when two individuals have been hardwired to use one another for their own personal desires? We’ve been fooled into thinking that love is what makes us happy. We’ve been trained to view love in terms of what we get out of it.
As we will find time and time again throughout salvation history, love has nothing to do with receiving but everything to do with giving. Not to say that we cannot receive love; because we can… from someone else. Love is about what we give, not what we receive. Jesus revealed this to us in a most perfect way in how He spent His time here on earth. Everything we have and everything that we are comes to us from God. What’s more is that after we fell into sin; after we chose ourselves, God communicated His nature in a new and special way. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus’ coming as man was an act of love in itself. Jesus came so that a perfect sacrifice might be offered for our own selfishness. In His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension the wages of sin had been conquered on our behalf because we couldn’t save ourselves.
Similarly, our relationship with Christ and His Church must imitate, in a very literal way, the love of God. The final two precepts of the Church direct us towards this sacrificial lifestyle. As I have mentioned previously, the precepts of the Church act as rules of engagement for all Catholics. To emphasize: these rules are not meant as expressions of Church authority; rather, they are guidelines to help ensure holiness in the lives of all believers. As the Church goes about her work to sanctify all believers these rules of engagement set us upon the path towards holiness; towards sainthood which is a common goal of all believers. (cf. 1 Peter 1:16) The first of these final two precepts deals with fasting and abstinence throughout the liturgical year. The other sets forth the obligation of the faithful to provide for the material needs of the Church. The themes that lie within these precepts call all of us to a life of sacrificial giving and periods of self-denial. Both exist as acts of worship and devotion to God for the blessings He has given us. Likewise, a dutiful adherence to these rules affords us opportunities to put to death sinfulness in our lives as Christ did for all of humanity.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” – Matthew 16:24-27
The call towards fasting and abstinence deal, from a liturgical standpoint, with the intercessions associated with particular feast days and seasons. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the fasting that we associate with lent. Lenten fasting ties itself directly to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In these forty days we recall the days spent in the desert where Jesus was not overcome by temptation. We, too, are called to withstand temptations and the near occasions of sin in our lives. To fast is to enter into a period of self-denial, as a form of penance for the sins we have fallen to and continuance of struggle against such tendencies. This self-denial seeks to reposition the heart so that we might be open to receive what God is trying to give us, namely, the recognition of new life that comes from God alone. Fasting also allows us to regain control, in order to master our instincts and the desires of our hearts. Most importantly, it acts as a humbling experience because it reveals our dependant state as humans.
The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.
The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability. The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities. – CCC 2043
The fifth rule of engagement can often become a point of contingency for believers. Very easily, greed can overtake a congregation and the motive of ministry can become financially driven. Personally, I cringe at the thought of televangelists that can’t go a week without begging viewers for their thousand dollar offering so that ‘blessings might rain down upon them.’ Christianity has seen her share of money grubbing. Because of such reasons, churchgoers can become apprehensive, even stingy, to the point that the Church fails to be sufficiently equipped to carry out her mission. What my wife and I have come to realize is that giving generously to our local parish community is a sign of our trust as well as an act of worship. Being in full-time parish ministry often means we are getting by on our trust in God. A nugget of wisdom that my dad instilled in me was that when we think we can’t afford to give is actually when we can’t afford NOT to give. Difficult economic times can shake the faith of the most devout Christians. We don’t give because we can; we give because God is always faithful. (cf. Malachi 3:10-11) We are called in our Catholic faith to continually give of ourselves as Christ did. The way in which we give is likely the most honest measure of our faith.
He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but he did say you would not be overcome. – St. Josemaria Escriva