June 12, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Precepts meant to guarantee minimum required to practice faith

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth of the love of God and neighbor” (#2041).

That is a packed paragraph.

We need to ponder the intent of the precepts, namely that they are meant to guarantee the minimum required to practice our faith as Catholics.

This should give us pause to ask ourselves: Do I embrace the faith? Is my faith Catholic? How strong is my Catholic faith? Do I want to at least do what needs to be done minimally to support my faith?

The catechism says the precepts guarantee the very necessary minimum. Does my life of faith accept the Church’s statement that there is, in fact, a necessary minimum of practices?

This assertion by the authorities of the Church is a pastoral recognition that in a world that wants to trust only what it can see, hear, taste or touch, i.e. concrete material reality, precepts are needed.

Faith is a supernatural gift that enables us to believe in the unseen and the mystery of God’s providential love. The pastoral authorities recognize that the gift of faith can become so weak that we lose it. Therefore, a certain pastoral realism is the foundation of the precepts (or commandments) of the Church.

Who are the “pastoral authorities” who establish the precepts of the Church as the minimum required to practice the Catholic faith? Quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the CCC responds this way: “The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are ‘authentic teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice’ (Lumen Gentium, 25). The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for” (#2034).

The catechism says the precepts of the Church are decreed by the pastoral authorities to guarantee to the faithful the necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer. Our relationship to God the Father through the intercession of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, like any relationship, requires communication.

We relate to God in prayer. And there is a minimal practice of prayer that is essential to foster the habit of prayer. Without the minimum, one is not likely to do much praying to God.

Friendship is a good analogy. If friends do not communicate, the friendship wanes and eventually fades away.

The precepts of the Church decree a minimal practice in the spirit of prayer. The spirit of prayer also suggests the spirit in which we should receive and practice the precepts of the Church decreed by pastoral authorities.

The precepts of the Church also decree the minimum practices that support our moral efforts. Without fundamental faith and without a minimal practice of the habit of prayer, we are not likely to lead a positive moral life.

If our faith in God is not central in life, it is not likely that we will have a sense of sin, nor are we likely to be allowing our conscience to influence us. Growth in love of God and neighbor require an intentional embrace of the way of life that nourishes that love.

If we don’t do what is the necessary minimum as a person of faith, we are not likely going to be successful in our efforts to love our neighbor. This is especially obvious if we recall that Jesus redefined who our neighbors are, i.e. everyone.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults reminds us that, “There is no doubt that love has to be the essential foundation of the moral life. But just as essential in this earthly realm are rules and laws that show how love may be applied in real life. In heaven, love alone will suffice. In this world, we need moral guidance from the Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Precepts of the Church, and other rules to see how love works” (p. 318).

The adult catechism goes on to state: “In our permissive culture, love is some­times so romanticized that it is separated from sacrifice. Because of this, tough moral choices cannot be faced. The absence of sacrificial love dooms the possibility of an authentic moral life” (p. 318).

Divine and moral laws and Church precepts are a source of liberation and of achieving our deepest human longings. †

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