Let us take a hypothetical situation. Joe and Jim.
Joe is seeking to draw close to Christ and so on Sundays, he will not only abstain from food one hour before receiving Communion he will abstain from any food for twenty four hours prior to communicating. His sole nourishment will be just to drink water for the twenty hours before he walks to altar to receive the host. Joe is walking to Catholic mass and comes to a traffic light. He is walking. It is Sunday morning and there is no traffic coming. So, even though he is walking against the light, he crosses the street. He is safe and no car ever came to that intersection, while he crossed the street.
Jim is also seeking to draw close to Christ and he refrains from eating anything for an hour before receiving Communion. He will drink water, but he will maintain his one hour fast.
He too comes to an intersection on his walk to the Church and although no traffic is coming, he chooses to wait until the light indicates that he can walk across the street. He feels silly standing there, especially in Boston where jay-walking is normal, but, he will not cross against the light.
Of the two which one is drawing close to Christ?
This is good way to begin simple instruction on living the Catholic faith called formation.
What is formation? It is teaching, but a special kind of teaching that helps one become a better Catholic. It is not lessons about following Church rules as much understanding the spirituality behind the rules. It is maybe learning the teachings of the saints on holiness, the deeper understanding of not only what sin is, but the why to avoid sin and particular sins, especially. In a sense, it is how to live as a Christian and so it is instruction that is, at a deeper level, more than simple catechesis or even evangelism.
I often bring to the English speaking Catholic community material from South America, because it is rich in formation that does not happen in US Catholic media. Indeed, it is quite rare.
That said, let us go back to our puzzle. Who is drawing closer to the Christ: Joe who goes beyond the Church demands for sacrifice, but jay-walks or Jim who follows the Church instruction on fasting before mass and does not jay-walk? St. Alphonsus Liguori would say Jim. He did not go the extra mile in sacrifice, but he used simple obedience to draw himself closer to Christ. This, the famous saint said, is the greatest form of sacrifice that leads us to the Kingdom of Heaven. He adds that obedience is greater than extra forms of penance. That is why, despite the extra effort Joe does, his jay-walking undermines what God wants from the practice of discipline. Whereas, even though Jim did a lesser sacrifice, his obedience is exactly what Christ is asking of him, for he is mortifying his will to submit to obedience to Christ. His obedience leads him closer to the words “Not my will be done, but thine.”
In fact, Monsignor Jonas Abib in his book on fasting, teaches that to over commit in sacrifice more than the church requires, can be more about proving to yourself than honoring God.
In either case, if you truly want to seek Christ, St. Alphonsus suggests you open yourself to the practice of obedience in all things.
Reference: 12 Steps to Salvation by St. Alphonsus Liguori.