Discipleship and the Precepts of the Church
What Does It Mean To Follow Jesus?
Jesus told his followers this parable:
A good tree does not bear sour fruit. And a rotten tree does not bear sweet fruit. You can recognize a tree by the fruit it makes. People don't pick figs in the thorns. And they don't pick grapes in thorny bushes. A good person brings out goodness from the treasure of a loving heart. And, a bad person brings out evil from a heart full of hate. For, when a person speaks, they show what's in their heart.
Based on Luke 6:43-45
When we are the disciples of Jesus, he wants us to show others the good we have in our hearts. He wants us to love God through sincere worship and prayer. He wants us to be active in our parish communities and share the Christian life with others. He wants us serve those in need. These are the ways we produce good fruit.
There are many rules and guidelines that show us how to be good people; the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes come to mind. But, how do we show others we are faithful Catholic Christians? The Church gives us such a list, called the Precepts of the Church.
The Precepts of the Church
The precepts or rules that show us how to live as good Catholics are:
1. "Attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation." When we attend and participate in Mass, we are fulfilling the Third Commandment: "Keep the Lord's Day holy." And because we are celebrating on the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead, we are showing we believe what God did for us.
2. "Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year." We are not perfect. We need God to help us become better people. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to turn back to God and to stop being selfish.
3. "Receive Communion at least once during the Easter Season." In the United States, the time to receive Communion begins at the First Sunday in Lent through Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost). However, the Church encourages us to receive Communion every time we attend Mass
4. "Observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church." On certain days of Lent, the Church in the United States wants us to say "no" to ourselves through abstinence and fasting. People over the age of 14 are to abstain from meat on the Fridays during Lent; that means they cannot eat meat on those days. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, people between the ages of 18 and 59 are to fast; that means they are to only eat the equivalent of one full meal and two smaller meals that together don't add up to a full meal.
Why are fasting and abstinence important? Someone asked Jesus about fasting:
"Why do the followers of John and the Pharisees fast on certain days of the week, while your followers eat every day?"
"Should anyone fast at a wedding reception when bridegroom is there?" Jesus replied. "No! When the groom is there, everyone eats. But soon, the groom will be taken from his reception. Then, the guests will stop eating."
Based on Mark 2:18-20
In the time of Jesus, Jews saw God's kingdom like a wedding reception; in this parable, Jesus told everyone he was the bridegroom. Fasting makes no sense at a reception; in fact, it would be rude. But, when the bridegroom was gone (that is, when Jesus died), then there would be a time for fasting. Since Lent prepares us to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is the proper time to fast.
5. "Honor the holy days of Obligation." The holy days of obligation are special weekdays that celebrate key events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. In the United States, the holy day are:
Immaculate Conception (December 8)
Christmas (December 25)
Mary, Mother of God (January 1)
Ascension of Jesus (40 days after Easter or on the Sunday before Pentecost)
Assumption of Mary (August 15)
All Saints Day (November 1)
On these days, Catholics are to attend Mass and keep the day holy.
6. "Help support the material needs of the Church to your best ability." The money that the Church receives builds and maintains the local parish, pays for people who work there, and helps the Church feed the poor and care for the needy. Donating money not only supports the Church, it helps the giver keep money in its proper place.
Jesus told his followers:
No one can serve two bosses. That person will either love the one boss and hate the other, or he will devote himself to the one boss and put down the other. You cannot put God and money first in your lives.
So listen what I tell you. Don't worry about what you will do day to day. Don't worry about what you will eat or drink. Don't worry about the clothes you will wear. Isn't life more important than worrying about these things?
Based on Matthew 6:24-25
By donating to the Church, the giver puts God first and money second in life. The giver shows himself and others that he trusts God for his material needs.
There are two other precepts mentioned for Americans. Catholics have a responsibility to get married in the Church. And they have a responsibility to help spread the Good News of Jesus to others, even those in far away places.
The Precepts of the Church help us become better followers of Jesus, simply because they require us to trust God with our time, energy, and money. They help us to focus on the important matters in life.
Jesus told his followers:
Your Father in heaven knows what you really need. So, make the Kingdom of God your top priority. Make sure you have a great relationship with him and he will take care of you.
Based on Matthew 6:32