By Danilo Acquisto One Sunday as a youngster I was in Mass and listening to Father rattling off prayers behind the altar as he was consecrating the Eucharist. Now it had been pretty hot that Sunday and I had on a long sleeve shirt and jeans and being A.D.D. my mind immediately started to drift and I began to wonder firstly, about how I was going to stay awake in this heat and whether the ladies behind me could see the sweat stains beginning to spread under my armpits but more importantly, who on earth sat down and decided that the Mass would be said in this way, what if I don’t want to fast for an hour before mass and why did the creed have two versions and why wasn’t my priest allowed to get married and did it always look this way? Does the church change its teachings? Who ACTUALLY makes the rules and do I trust them? Quite frankly, why do I even need the rules at all? Now as a youngster, I guess I didn’t really care much for rules – they were there to keep me from having fun. But the older I became, the more nuanced that question became for me and I was being challenged from all directions on why an old man in a dress who lives far off in Rome decides what I can and can’t do with my life. This sent me on one of the most beautiful journeys of discovery – to realise that the rules aren’t there to confine me or there to spoil my fun but in fact are there to give me a whole new level of love for God and His Church, for life itself. Now it would be irresponsible of me to dive straight into an intellectual discussion on who makes the rules without first looking at why these rules shape our spirituality and will ultimately set us free. I will be posting ‘part two’ of this article next week where we can look at what those rules actually are and who makes them. IF I HAVE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, WHY DO I NEED ALL THE RULES? Often we hear “rules” like two men cannot get married, divorced couples may not receive the Eucharist, you shall confess your sins at least once a year, you may not eat meat on a Friday during Lent, and feel (naturally) that all these sound like man-made rules, and that is true – they are man-made – but more importantly we have to hold on to Christ’s promise when He said He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. I think we all need to understand that the Church is not only made up of the Pope, Bishops, Deacons, Nuns etc; in fact it is all of us (the congregation) and, importantly, the head of the Church, Jesus Himself, and is guided by the Holy Spirit. So often we have heard the Catholic Church being referred to as mother and guide. How often do you remember your mother telling you to do something that you didn’t want to do and when you asked why, her response was ‘because I said so…” and in latter years as you grew up, you began to understand the reasons for yourself and began to appreciate the guidance. It’s a matter of maturity. We didn’t learn to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ by understanding the joys and graces that come with manners. No. We did it initially because we were told to and eventually grew into maturity to understand the impact of good manners. So to in our spiritual lives we need to grow in spiritual maturity to understand the value of the rules as coming from a caring and loving mother who only wants the best for her children. Only once we are here can we begin to appreciate the value of rules instead of just judging them by the inconvenience they cause in our lives. I once read online that the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church no more stifle an individual’s personal relationship with Christ than the rules and regulations of a driver’s manual stifles a driver’s capacity to drive his vehicle. And this makes sense to me because just like knowing the owner’s manual frees the driver to enjoy his vehicle and keep it in tip top condition, so knowing the rules of the Church help us spiritually to be in the best “condition” so to speak, so we can more fully participate in our personal relationship with Christ. The rules of the road don’t hinder us and restrict our fun (though they can appear to). In fact they are essential in helping us reach our destination in the easiest and safest manner. They prevent breakdowns. So too in the spiritual life, rules are there to help us; help us reach our destination which is Heaven and to help us avoid those spiritual break downs. Just as Jesus once said of the Sabbath, rules are for man, not man for rules. And since man is called to be in relationship with God and neighbour, one important way man learns the shape and application of rules is through personal relationship with teachers. The bottom line is this; “learn the rules from your teachers in the Faith, not merely for the sake of learning rules, but for the sake of strengthening your life in Christ. Then, as surely as the law of gravity had to be mastered before man could learn to fly, the rules of your faith will not be restrictive but will be the principles upon which you will be able to spiritually soar.” (Catholic Answers: Michelle Arnold; September 16, 2013) WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER YOU DO BETTER Christ gave us the Church to teach and to guide us; she does so, in part, by telling us what we have to do in order to keep growing spiritually. And as we do grow spiritually, those “man-made rules” begin to make a lot more sense, and we want to follow them even without being told to do so. So that youngster sitting in Mass whom I spoke of earlier, worrying about whether he could trust what he has been told, has grown into a man in love with those very teachings and who trusts the wisdom of the Church because he knows that behind everything is love and the desire to bring all souls to heaven – it’s that simple, really. That’s the church’s only goal – guide all people to heaven. I want that. And I trust that the Spirit is guiding the Church and if I believe God to be the God of the universe, He is bigger than all the teachings I may disagree with and I humble myself to know that all He wants is for me to have relationship with Him and to be with Him at the end of time. I pray that the ‘rules’ of the Church may be hooks on which you can hang your faith and an opportunity for you to ask questions (curiously of course) and explore and draw closer to Christ as you experience new graces. When you know better, you do better. If this article has made you curious about the rules and want to know who makes them, I will be posting part 2 of this article next week. I encourage you to ask question: comment below and let me know your experience of the rules and the graces you have (or perhaps haven’t) received by them. God bless About the Author Danilo Acquisto I am a 24-year-old busy-body to put it simply. I work on national TV as a television presenter and have 2 radio shows and I love exploring various forms of ministry. Food is definitely my weak point. I live in beautiful Cape Town and have a BA in Law and Sociology. I have a passion for people and digital media (a bit of a contrast, I know). I am ADD and I LOVE it. Look there goes a bunny. Oh and being Catholic was the best gift my parents could have given me. I don’t know how I would have made it through the world (never mind the world of media) without a strong Church Community.