O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes. Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last for ever (Psalm 81:13-14).Today it often appears that those who are living in rebellion against God are getting the upper hand. It is easy to sit back, wring our hands, and say "why is this happening?" We can also do some serious thinking and look to see what God says about times like these. The Psalm quoted above is not given to frighten us, as much as it is given to encourage us. It tells us of God's promise to "defeat our enemies" if only we would listen to Him and follow the manner of life that He sets before us. The details of the "ways" of God are not the same today as they were 3000 years ago when that Psalm was written, but the basics have not changed.
It is these "basics", or we might call them "minimum requirements", that the Church has revealed unto us for our spiritual benefit. She has summarized them in what we call the Precepts of the Church. As the Psalm says, walking in the ways of the Lord (i.e. following the precepts as a bare minimum) will lead to victory. It will lead to the success of the gospel, the destruction of evil (both within and without the Church), and the glory of God.
At the heart of the matter is this truth: faithfulness to God leads to victory (even if we cannot see how), and unfaithfulness to God leads to defeat. What do we see right now going on in the world? Does the Catholic Church look mostly successful, or does she appear to be failing? Do we see evil increasing in the world, or diminishing? Although I see wonderful acts of goodness and righteousness every day, I cannot say that this is the overall trend of society. In fact, hatred, selfishness, and pride seem to be the predominant attitudes among most people that you meet today; read the news for just a couple minutes and you will see it (often in the reporters more than in the stories they are reporting!).
What then can we say? Can we say that we are genuinely working at being as faithful as God wants us to be? Can we say that God really does not care whether we obey, as long as we have good intentions? Can we say that there is no connection between the behavior of God's baptized people and the spread of evil in the world? Do not misunderstand me: I am not speaking about our direct acts of goodness upon society (e.g. the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, etc.) which do impact people around us in an obvious way, but rather the general goodness of our hearts and deeds.
Following the admonition in the Psalm above, here is what we can say: Catholics in general are not "listening to God" and we are not "walking in His ways". If we were, then evil would not be increasing at such astronomical rates as it is today. Yes, there are some who are living very devout and faithful lives, but it is apparently not enough for those who "hate the Lord" to be "subdued". This means that in some ways, the enemies of God are getting the upper hand, and that it is our lack of genuine and deep devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ that is causing this to happen.
What I am referring to is this: holiness in our homes, has an influence on society at large even when the two do not meet directly. It is like taking a pain reliever and not seeing how it actually makes the headache go away, but it does. When it comes to righteousness, it does have an influence because God said it will--regardless of whether we believe it or understand how it happens. In other words, more righteousness in the Church means more righteousness in the world, and that means that the enemies of God are conquered. Either by conversion, or elimination, it will happen.
So then, what are those "precepts" that I spoke of above, and how are we to implement them? The list is quite simple. In the Catechism (2042-2043) we read:
1) “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”Ponder and think about these five "minimums" of holiness (we will see, at a later time, why some think there should be six). We will begin to unpackage them in more detail in future posts.
2) “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”
3) “You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”
4) “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”
5) “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”