I didn't want to go to work this week. Or last week. I've been bouncing between ear infections and sinus infections on and off for the past couple of months. It turns out that even with a healthy diet and regular exercise, sleep deprivation and rapidly changing temperatures in an apartment overnight aren't good for one's health.
Of course, I should want to go to work at all times. My desire to serve my co-workers in a spirit of love would ideally be so strong that it dissipates all my illness and puts a smile on my face all day. Maybe one day I will reach that point, but I'm not there yet. Sometimes my negative emotions and physical ailments are weighty enough that they throw me out of balance, tilting the scales of my heart away from love.
But even when I don't have the right attitude, I go anyway because it is mandatory. And this is something I'm glad for; even when my heart isn't in it, the requirement to do my job and serve others is still in it. The fact that going to work is mandatory is a very good thing. It pushes us to do something good even when we might otherwise have a cold and hard heart which wants to bar itself up and keep away from anyone who might need our help.
The requirement to go and serve others, because I weight it so heavily, helps to tip the scales back to the side of love. Some might think that this is not actually love or is a very weak love, but our love is not strongest when we have warm and fuzzy feelings for others and act accordingly; our love is strongest when we have cold and hard feelings for them and act lovingly in spite of those feelings.
The choice to act lovingly even when we don't want to is a far stronger form of love than the kind of love which is buoyed up by the balloon of temporary emotional highs. The air of warm and fuzzy feelings can easily be taken out of the balloon, but the love of obedience to the mandatory requirements which demand service to others remains solid no matter how little air remains heated by our warmest and fuzziest feelings.
Even a small act of love which is performed while struggling against the walls of indifference, hate, or despair in our hearts is greater than the most magnificent display of love which comes so effortlessly while supported by a transient euphoria.
This same principle applies in our spiritual practice as well. There will be times when we struggle to pray, when we struggle to give generously of our treasures, and when we struggle to abstain from those things which are proscribed for the good of our spiritual health. We will struggle against the walls of indifference, hate, and despair which weight the scales of our hearts away from love.
Fortunately, the mandatory spiritual disciplines of the Church are there to help me push my ego out of the way and perform acts of love regardless of my feelings in any given moment. The immense weight of the requirements of the Church are there to tilt the scales of my heart inexorably back in the direction of love, turning me toward the one who loved us unto death even when my heart is cold and hard so that Love can fill it with warmth and light again.
Her mandatory prayers, sacraments, tithes, and fasts fill the scales of my heart so much that even in those moments when my intellect cannot provide a reason to love, when my body has not much strength left for acts of love, and my will is weakened so much that I do not even will the good of another, the scales of my heart are nonetheless tilted toward the side of love.
That is the benefit of mandatory spirituality.
By Turgis - Turgis, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45719762