Rules as an expression of love

By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick
The Sooner Catholic

As a mother of young children, my husband and I are constantly developing rules and habits that help our children understand how to act in different situations. The most basic involve hygiene, safety and health such as washing hands before dinner, not running into the street and never going off with a stranger. As our children get older, the habits and rules become more involved, aiming at spiritual, social and educational nourishment.

Like all parents, we strive to come up with instructions that are clear, keep them safe, sow seeds of peace, and help them flourish. We aim to give them boundaries to guide them, and habits to develop virtue, while respecting their unique personhood. We endeavor to give them boundaries that make them free. Finally, we don’t want to make arbitrary rules, just to exercise our power.
 
Neither does God.
 
God, whose love for us is greater than my love for my children, instituted his rules rooted in love to help us flourish. As Archbishop Charles Chaput points out in his article “The Splendor of Truth in 2017,” moral rules, laws and commandments “have value because they point to something far more profound: how to live in order to grow in virtue and attain fullness of life.” God’s rules for us are far from arbitrary. The rules were created in accordance with our own inherent nature as persons.
 
Sometimes, these rules may seem arbitrary. Why is 10 percent the standard amount to tithe? Isn’t the commitment of engagement enough to start living as married persons –
why must one wait until the wedding day itself? Why must our obligation to attend Mass be fulfilled on Sunday?
 
For a child, too, a parent’s rules often seem arbitrary. Why is this place over here okay to stand, while a little further on is not? A 1--year-old does not understand why she can go to a certain place in the yard and no more. She does not have the understanding of even a 3-year-old, who knows that danger awaits in the street. An 8-year-old can’t grasp how certain images can warp his brain or the virtue he will develop by faithfully performing his chores. A 14-year-old can’t see the importance of being able to run a few miles for lifelong fitness. A child does not and cannot have the scope of life that a parent has.
 
Like a child, we too have a limited view of life’s longevity and purpose. We cannot see ahead in the way that God can – nor do we always have an accurate view of the present situation. The consequences of a decision to follow or to violate God’s laws are often not evident for many years. The abundance we will receive by faithfully tithing, living the married life within the sacrament, and keeping Sundays as a day of rest can only fully be known by living it.

Though the fruit of a life lived in virtue can only be known completely by living it, its richness can be known partially two other ways: its absence and moral theology.

Like a good parent, God uses the Church to explain the reasons behind his rules, even when we aren’t equipped to completely grasp them. As Archbishop Chaput explains, a key theme in the pontificate of Saint John Paul II was to proclaim the truth that morality is a path to happiness.

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” published during John Paul II’s pontificate, pieces by numerous theologians inspired by his work, and his own writing, especially his famous Wednesday audiences collected as “The Theology of the Body,” beautifully construct a vision of life lived in accordance with our nature.

“He wanted the Church to recover her zeal in affirming that no richer life exists than one lived in the fullness of truth.”