“Go where you can love God best.”
My spiritual director shared this advice at a Holy Hour for discerning women. The thought rankled me. Shouldn’t I go where I could serve God best? Shouldn’t I go where I could pray best?
“Love and do what you will.”
Again, this sage command from Saint Augustine rankled me. The spiritual life is a lot more complicated than that, Saint Augustine. What about being a missionary? Should I go to Latin Mass or should I go to a charismatic Mass? Should I have a Franciscan or Dominican spirituality?
“Enjoy yourself as much as you like, if only you keep from sin.”
Umm, seems a little dangerous here, Saint John Bosco. What about custody of the senses, modesty? What about fasting? Shouldn’t I always pursue the hardest route; won’t that win more graces?
What stirred in my heart when I came across these statements throughout the years was that they did not measure up to my personal definition of holiness. My definition of holiness included specific prayers and novenas, devotions and acts of service. Holiness looked a specific way: both exteriorly and interiorly. Yet these were very holy people placed in my life, and our definitions of holiness were not congruent.
And since I don’t have the "Saint" in front of my name, the one in need of correction must be me.
What Must I Do?
Good teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life? // Matthew 19:16
At some point in our coming closer to the Lord, we have asked this same question. Some of us are rule followers, some are rule benders, but we all face the same struggle. We can get caught in the mire of all-the-things when, ultimately, all-the-things are there solely to bring us into a relationship with Christ.
What does the Church have to say about this? In addition to the Ten Commandments, she gives us something that “guarantees to the faithful the very necessary minimum” (CCC 2141) for growth in holiness: the precepts of the Church.
It seems strange to talk about the bare minimum in the context of holiness, but the Church, in her wisdom, shows us that what is below this baseline is sin. There is no limit to what is above the baseline, as there is no limit to holiness. This is an important consideration, especially for those who struggle with scruples.
Am I living the precepts of the Church and following the Ten Commandments? Then, I am in grace.
What are the Precepts of the Church?
So what are the precepts of the Church? And what do the Saints—the holy men and women who have gone before us—say about them?
"You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor."
Once, Saint Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s goodness and asked Our Lord, “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “Attend one Mass.”
“The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer.” // Pope Paul VI
“Martyrdom is nothing in comparison with the Mass, because martyrdom is the sacrifice of man to God, whereas the Mass is the Sacrifice of God for man!” // Saint John Vianney
"You shall confess your sins at least once a year."
"In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You." // Saint Augustine
"My daughter, just as you prepare in My presence, so also you make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest it is that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light. // Saint Faustina
"Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls." // Saint Faustina
“Our soul is like a hot air balloon. If by chance there is a mortal sin, the soul falls to the ground. Confession is like the fire underneath the balloon enabling the soul to rise again. . . It is important to go to confession often.” // Blessed Carlo Acutis
"You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season."
"There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us." // Saint Jean Vianney
"When you approach the tabernacle remember that he has been waiting for you for twenty centuries." // Saint Josemaria Escriva
"If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion." // Saint Maximilian Kolbe
“The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.” // Blessed Carlo Acutis
"You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church."
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity." // Saint Augustine
“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.” // Venerable Fulton Sheen
"One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. Moderation, recollection, and prayer go hand in hand.” // Pope Saint John Paul II
"You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church."
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” // Saint Teresa of Calcutta
“Love God, serve God; everything is in that.” // Saint Clare of Assisi
“The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with Him in the building of the civilization of love.” // Pope Saint John Paul II
"The precepts of the Church and the Ten Commandments are ordered to love. They are given to us a means to draw closer to the Lord, as a roadmap to His Heart. “Today Christ is asking each of you the same question: do you love Me? He is not asking you whether you know how to speak to crowds, whether you can direct an organization or manage an estate. He is asking you to love Him. All the rest will ensue.” // Pope Saint John Paul II
May we not get caught up in the shoulds and coulds, the do-it-yourself holiness kits. The Church shows us the way. Let’s be His.