There are many different approaches to living the Catholic Faith. Some people prefer more traditional devotions such as novenas and formal prayer while others choose to speak to Jesus using spontaneous prayer. Some like the Charismatic movement while others pray in silence. As long as your approach is faithful to Church teaching and brings you closer to Christ, it really is a matter of personal choice.
However, over the course of my life as a Cradle Catholic, I’ve discovered 5 big mistakes that will definitely hurt your faith. I have personally made most of these mistakes and the results were not pretty. Instead of getting closer to Christ (and being a good example for others), I ended up heading in the wrong direction. In order to spare you some agony, I present my list of the 5 biggest mistakes Catholics make and how to avoid them.
1. Checking The Box- “What do you mean I’m not a good Catholic? I go to Mass on Sunday!” This was my philosophy for most of my life. I went to Mass every week and thought that I was fulfilling my duties as a Catholic. After all, there are tons of Catholics who don’t even go to Mass! Unfortunately, even though I was physically going to church and saying the prayers, my mind was a thousand miles away.
Those of you who are married, in a relationship, or have close friends realize that speaking to a person once a week doesn’t help to build a close relationship. If you want to get closer to someone, you need to speak with them often. The same principle applies to our relationship with Christ. If all we do is show up for Mass each week, we’re never going to REALLY know Him. This situation becomes even worse when we don’t even pay attention at Mass. If we want to become good friends with Jesus, we must talk to Him (in prayer) frequently. We should listen to Him speak through the Bible and we should encounter Him in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession as often as we can.
2. “My Faith Is A Personal Matter” - “I can’t impose my personal beliefs on others.” Sometimes known as “religious indifference”, this is rooted in the belief that one religion is as good as the next. People who fall into this trap believe that our religious beliefs are personal and shouldn’t be “forced” on others. While we shouldn’t force our beliefs on others, we should “always be ready to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and be willing to “preach the gospel to all nations” (Mk 13:10). Before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus instructed the Apostles:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Mt 28:19)
In other words, what one believes really DOES matter! Jesus instructed the Apostles to teach ALL that He commanded, not just some things. Our Lord founded the Catholic Church (Mt 16:18-20) as the vehicle for our salvation. The Church has the fullness of truth and her teachings should be shared with others. As proof of this, St. Paul tells us that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). It is our job as Catholics to share in this mission and to share the “Good News” with those whom we encounter in our daily lives.
3. The “Do It Yourself” Approach- “I don’t believe in medals and novenas. That’s a bunch of superstition. Saying the rosary is for old people. I speak directly to God!” Does that sound familiar? If you want to ensure that your faith never gets any stronger, the best way to do that is to ignore the Blessed Mother, the intercession of the saints, devotions, approved apparitions, sacramentals (such as the scapular, medals and holy water) and try to do it all by yourself.
The Church gives us sacramentals and devotions to help us get to Heaven. The same can be said for approved (please note that I say “approved”!) apparitions of Our Lady and Our Lord. If we try to do it all by ourselves, we’re going to fail. Why? Because we’re human and that makes us prone to laziness, love of comfort and doing the wrong thing. Not exactly the qualities that will help one attain eternal life! If we avail ourselves of some Divine assistance, however, all things are possible.
For many years I chose to ignore approved Marian apparitions, as I thought they were an unnecessary distraction. I now realize that this wasn’t too bright on my part. If the Church rules that certain appearances of the Blessed Mother are worthy of belief, why would I choose to ignore her message? If I really wanted to get closer to the Lord and be a better Catholic, shouldn’t I listen to her advice? It really makes sense to me now and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this powerful gift.
Another form of this mistake is forgetting to ask for help. I once told my spiritual director that I was trying to stop worrying and trust God more. I mentioned how hard I was trying, but without much success. He replied, “Did you ask God for help?” I was speechless because I honestly never thought of doing that! Don’t try to become a better person on your own. Ask the saints to intercede for you and ask the Lord for some extra grace. You’ll be amazed at the results!
4. Ignorance Is Bliss - “What I don’t know won’t hurt me”. If we don’t take the time to learn the teachings of the Church, it’s almost certain that we’re going to be going against God’s will. How can we truly obey the Lord’s commandments if we don’t know them? Proponents of this brand of Catholicism go through life practicing contraception, downloading music illegally, missing Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, drinking to excess, etc. The trouble with this approach is that we’re not doing what Jesus wants us to do.
As Catholics, we are blessed to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This book provides an excellent summary of what Catholics believe. Sadly, many Catholics have never looked at this great resource. One of the most eye opening sections involves the explanation of “Thou Shall Not Kill” (CCC 2258 – 2330). Aside from the obvious meaning, the Church expands the commandment to cover respect for the souls of others (avoid setting a bad example that may lead others astray), proper attention to our health (gluttony, excessive use of alcohol or tobacco and even speeding can be grave sins!) and the preservation of peace (be on guard against anger and verbal abuse).
Not only can this mistake cause damage to your spiritual well being, it can even afect your salvation! As Catholics, we are responsible for the education of our conscience. While, objectively speaking, God will not hold us accountable for what we don’t know, we are expected to make an attempt to learn what the Church teaches. According to the Catechism:
This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits. (CCC 1791)
5. The ”Either-Or” Fallacy – Either you know the facts and follow the laws of the Catholic Church or you do nice things for people. We can’t deny Communion to anyone because Jesus dined with sinners, not just those who were holy. The Mass MUST be in Latin because that’s the way things were done years ago when Catholics “cared about their faith”. Those who fall into this line of thinking are making the false assumption that in order to be a good Catholic you must either follow the rules OR be a good person. In reality, we must do BOTH!
Throughout His public ministry, Jesus made it clear that we must worship Him with our hearts as well as our lips. In the Sermon on the Mount, He warned against rattling off “empty” prayers:
In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. (Mt 6:7)
Unfortunately, many individuals incorrectly interpret this as a condemnation of formal prayer or, worse yet, as a dismissal of the need for any law or rules. That viewpoint completely ignores the words of Jesus who says just the opposite!
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:17-19)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15)
In order to live our Catholic Faith, we first need to understand the rules. Once we understand the rules and expectations of being a Catholic, we have to live them. The “either-or” fallacy just doesn’t “cut it”. In order to be a good Catholic, we must do both!
So there you have it …My list of the 5 biggest mistakes that Catholics make and how to avoid them. What do you think? Agree? disagree? Did I miss any? Let me know…