Isn’t the Catholic Church full of rules? Do this… don’t do that… seems to be all we talk about. Some people assume that the Catholic Church has so many rules because the pope, or whomever, wants to control the masses by imposing his will on them. Or maybe the rules are there because we believe we can work our way to heaven?
I’m happy to say that none of the above is true. I can see how a person could misunderstand; so let’s talk about why we have these rules.
The core reason for the Church’s teachings that impact our daily lives, teachings against contraception come to mind along with many others, are not created to hold lay Catholics down, but to raise us up. Following the Church’s teachings will not earn us heaven, the Catholic Church never taught or teaches that, but they put us in a position to better accept Christ’s saving grace. Let’s use an analogy.
Swimming lessons in themselves do not save anyone’s life. At the time of the lessons, my life was not in danger. However, if I have a water-related accident what I learned from those lessons could very well save my life. The teachings of the Church act the same way. Attending Mass every Sunday will not earn me heaven (save my eternal life). However, if I pay attention, listen to the Bible readings, apply the sermon to my life, and am open to the graces of the Eucharist, I may well have my life saved because of the experiences of going to Mass.
Practicing NFP instead of artificial contraception won’t “earn” me heaven. However, by forcing myself to be open to God’s plan in the most intimate part of my life I am naturally more open to God’s plan in other parts of my life. By surrendering artificial control to God, I allow God to train me to surrender in other areas.
This logic can be applied to every Church teaching I can think of. The purpose of the teaching isn’t to “earn” heaven. The purpose is to become through discipline and practice the sort of person who chooses God over the world.
St. Paul says in 1 Cor 9:25-27 “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified”
St. Paul lived a life of discipline, which requires following rules. Why? Not because he has already earned haven, but because he wants to train his body and soul to become accustomed to the ways of God, not the world. Catholic “rules” are in place for the exact same reason.