I like rules. Rules give me order, regularity, firm principles and guidance. I mentioned before that I have often begun my Lenten observance with a chart and list of my plans for sacrifice, spiritual practice, devotional reading and almsgiving, resulting in negligible spiritual growth. But this year, when I was too overwhelmed to do much planning, the Spirit came, able to move freely as He willed. Around that time, I heard a caller question a priest on Relevant Radio about what to do when missing a day during a novena, or even, forgetting to do her novena prayer at the same time each day. That gracious Father put the whole topic into focus for me. Rules are meant to serve us, not to enslave us!
Now, of course, there are two types of rules. There are the rules that Holy Church has instituted that firmly bind us. These rules are objective truth, and are our protection from error. If my soul chafes against these rules, then it is my own conscience I need to examine. Do I need to spend more time instructing my intellect? Or do I need to pray for an increase in my docility to the Church? Whatever the lack, if the Church has defined it, I must submit.
But then there are the other rules. Rules that have been given because they are good, but not binding. A novena, for example, is to serve us, to help us increase in love and devotion to Christ. In the spirit of love, if we miss a day, we make it up when we discover our error. Recently Steve and his wife, my husband and I were praying a novena in preparation for consecration to Mary through the Militia Immaculata. The consecration ideally should happen on a Marian feast, and I discovered we were eight days out rather than nine. Did that deter us? Should we wait to enact the exact number of days and consecrate ourselves at the precise time recommended? Or, should we embrace Christian freedom and understand that the formation of our hearts was the goal, not precision in the practice. Over the ensuing days, we had to miss one or two days of gathering together due to work commitments, or the natural fatigue of being parents of 20 children between us, so we consecrated ourselves three days late, on Trinity Sunday. Was Mary displeased? I should say not!
Rules are good! They encourage formation. But followed too strictly, they can restrict growth. The soul and the Holy Spirit need to be allowed to breathe. So recently I’ve been working to let go of worry over following the letter of the law, and guilt or fear of breaking a rule. Instead, I begin again new each day, and God-willing, I’ll make the majority of the Liturgy of the Hours, or complete my morning Rosary and afternoon Chaplet, but not at the expense of my family, my vocation, my sanity or my community. And I’ve discovered freedom!