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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Catholics Make (And How To Avoid Them)

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…

19 Comments

  1. Robyn says:

    Really great post Gary. Makes you think…I also shared it on my faceBook page and my Parish’s facebook page..Thanks for the posting! God Bless You
    Robyn

  2. Gregory Murphy says:

    All good and solid material until No.5 and the, seemingly shoehorned, reference to the Mass in Latin – with an accompanying BLOCK capitals emphasis – and those who are proponents of the Extraordinary Form.

    Seems there’s a false dichotomy gently proposed and eased-in here and the whole tone seems utterly incongruous with all that’s gone before. Why zone-in those who are attached to the Mass in Latin, specifically, as one extreme in the either-or fallacy? What’s the contextual rationale for this? It hints towards the perceived, out-dated and tiresome “pharisaical” routine accusation levelled at those who are attached to the Mass in Latin. But without actually saying so.

    Tests: i) could the whole list have succeeded in its aims without the reference to the Mass in Latin? Yes; ii) Did the unnecessary reference to the Mass in Latin add anything of value to the otherwise very thoughtful piece? No.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Thanks for your well thought out comments, Greg! Just for the record, I love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and I totally understand the fact that it is totally approved by the Church and preferred by many Catholics. The point I was trying to make by my example is that the Novus Ordo is also a valid way to celebrate the Mass. I’ve known some individuals who do not believe that. My example was directed toward them. Many of these folks exhibit a serious lack of charity toward those who prefer the Ordinary form and that’s wrong. I’m sorry if it was unclear, but thanks for giving me the chance to elaborate.

      God Bless,
      Gary

      1. LYNDA WRIGHT says:

        RE: #3 “THE ‘DO IT YOURSELF’ APPROACH. WHAT APPARITIONS ARE APPROVED?

  3. Gregory Murphy says:

    Your explanation is accepted, Gary.

    If I may be so bold, then, as to suggest the following balanced edit:

    Instead of…

    “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!”

    You could say…

    “The Mass MUST be in Latin because that’s the way things were done years ago when Catholics ‘cared about their faith’, or the Mass MUST be in the Vernacular because that’s how things are done these days to show how Catholics ‘care for their faith in a modern world’. Those who fall into these lines 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!”

    Pax.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Point well taken, sir…Thanks again for taking the time to write up the detailed comments!

      Pax et bonum,
      Gary

  4. Lyn says:

    I agree with Gregory’s idea – too often a one-sided view is presented of those who prefer the Latin Mass. I have seen just as much hostility from some who prefer the Ordinary Form as well.

    God Bless.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Absolutely, Lyn…Thanks for keeping me honest!

      God Bless,
      Gary

  5. Magistra Bona says:

    Good post. On do-it-yourself-ing–It should be acknowledged that some err in the other direction, putting novenas and chaplets, rosaries and other devotions ahead of the main sacramentals such as the Holy Mass. It must be remembered that our liturgical life is ordered, that is, has a hierarchy. Most important first, then the others. True Marianism leads to solid Catholicism. Mariolatry leads to dissipation. At the center of the Christian life is the Eucharist. What’s next in importance? Hard one to call. Many Catholics are confused or poorly catechized on this issue. But, in the liturgy, the next priority is the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. Not the Rosary, the chaplet to St. Michael, or the Nine First Fridays–cool, indulgenced, and enjoyed as they are. The prayer of the entire Church is higher and more consequential than prayers associated with Marian apparitions. Most Catholics don’t know the LOTH and don’t care. In a way, they’ve substituted the easier and more familiar prayers of the Rosary for the Psalms, the very word of God. There is a kind of laziness in this. We do it ourselves and we do it our way–like Burger King. Often adherents of this or that apparition chide others who do not get into it, considering them bad Catholics or worse than heathens. Is this what Mary would want? Mary’s genius is to point to her Son, our only hope. Mary practiced balanced devotion and prayer. At all times she gave glory to God, not herself. If we truly admire her, let’s be like her. Let’s learn the LOTH and get prayin’.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      You make some excellent points, Magistra. We should always make sure our priorities are in order.

      God Bless,
      Gary

  6. Lagniappe says:

    Quote from Pt #3: “The Church gives us sacramentals and devotions to help us get to Heaven.”

    RESPONSE: 5 good points, Brent, and can easily be applied to almost any situation in life. But the point I have highlighted is the most significant and disturbing as to going to our eternal rest. To give any ecclesiastical church the dominion and power to either assist or reject when it come to Biblical faith without the means of the law, Tradition, Catechisms, etc., makes the cross of non-effect. John 19:28-29 mention the fulfillment of Scripture and the 3 words that shattered the fetters of sin: IT IS FINISHED.

    What Catholicism advocates, as most others do as well, is a synergistic versus a monergistic view of Christ’s substitution. The former implies that He (Jesus) did not complete the work He was sent to do and insists that works, etc., are required to hold on to faith. Even Romans, from beginning to end, it is all about what Jesus Christ did. Peter is not even mentioned in the book. No where does Paul, in any of his writings, address anything that even looks like works (Eph 2:10). [And spare me James 2:24].

    While I too was a cradle Catholic with many of the points you mentioned as part of my religious feeling, I know that faith is not imparted by a bit of water, nor are “sacraments” the grace elements necessary to enhance and possibly ensure I die in a “state of grace”, and that maybe purgatory won’t be too long!! If Jesus was incapable of completing the eternal purpose He was sent to do (Eph 3), then the rest does not matter. And just for the record, NO ONE, NO ONE WHO PROCLAIMS REPENTANCE AND FAITH IN THE SOLE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST CAN LIVE IN SIN WITHOUT SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES (See 1 John 2-4). IT IS NOT SAVED TODAY, SIN WHEN EVER, AND HAVE A LAZZIE FAIR WITNESS. All True Believers are salt and light and the Holy Spirit swells within, the Bible guides their life, and the local church instills, not a grace, but the witness and encouragement to persevere to the end. Peace

    1. Jacko says:

      That’s the reason I left the Catholic church, to much basis on sacraments and works. Christ dying on the cross was payment for my sins, I live a life in obedience to him because of that sacrifice.
      -For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

      1. Gary Zimak says:

        Thanks for the comments, Jacko, but how do you explain the following 2 verses?

        - So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead. (James 2:17)
        - You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

        God Bless,
        Gary

        1. Jacko says:

          James is dealing with people who profess to be Christians, and yet they don’t evidence the reality of their faith by their works [deeds]. Over, and over again… people will say they have faith and they don’t have works, and James is saying that real faith always produces works as a result… The question is, ‘A man may say that he has faith, but will that faith justify him?’ If it is just a ‘said’ faith”—no, it won’t!”

          1 Timothy 2:5
          For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

          Didn’t see the virgin Mary or the saints in that verse. Or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

          God Bless

          1. Gary Zimak says:

            Jacko – Your comments provide further support for the necessity of works in addition to faith. While our salvation comes about through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the Bible is clear that we can “mess it up”. Our Lord warns many times of the reality of hell and the possibilty of our ending up there.

            1 Timothy 2:5
            For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

            Amen, brother! That it exactly what Catholics believe!!! When we ask the saints or the Blessed Mother to intercede for us, we are doing exactly what you did when you ended your comment with the words “God Bless”. You asked God to bless me and I bet that if I asked you to pray for me you’d do it. That’s the role of Mary and the saints. However, being chosen to be the Mother of God puts Mary in a very honorable and special position. She’s still not divine, she’s human, but as the Bible tells us…she is “highly favored”. One of the best biblical examples of Mary’s intercessory power can be seen at the wedding feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-2). Note that St. John goes out of his way to highlight the presence of Mary:

            “On the 3rd day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, AND THE MOTHER OF JESUS WAS THERE; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with His disciples.” (Jn 2:1-2)

            Do you think he phrased it this way by accident? No, St. John didn’t write things by accident…Rather he was calling attention to Mary’s presence at the wedding. Why? Because it was through her intercession that Our Lord performed His first miracle and turned the water into wine. She can intercede for you and I in the same way.

            If you’ll look at the Bible, you’ll see that Jesus founded a Church under the leadership of St. Peter,the 1st pope,(Mt 16:18-20) . That Church is the Catholic Church and she has been around for 2000 years and will continue to be around until the end of time. The purpose of this Church is to dispense the graces (through the sacraments) that you and I need to get to Heaven.

            I’ll keep you in my prayers, Jacko. Email me at gary@followingthetruth.com if I can be of any assistance in providing information about the TRUE teachings of the Catholic Church.

            God Bless,
            Gary

  7. Lagniappe says:

    Excuse my error… Gary not Brent. mea culpa

    1. Michel says:

      Hello my Louisiana brother!

      I have heard a number of explanations for His phrase “It is finished”.

      The one that I find has the least support is that it means “all work necessary is finished”. That just isn’t in the text.
      Some might say that it means HIS work is finished, but that is not true either.

      Jesus’ death on the cross was not and is not the end.

      After He said “It is finished”, …
      He rose.
      He brought the Holy Spirit.
      He stayed with His followers on Earth for 50 days before He ascended to heaven.
      John’s Revelation shows Jesus doing even more after His ascencion.

      This new teaching that “It is finished” means “no other work is necessary” just isn’t biblical.
      I would urge all to re-read the chapter without the pretext you’ve stated, or as you read it at least be aware that you have given it a pretext.

      Look for the context in the same sentence or nearby.
      Do not impose a context that just isn’t there.
      Let scripture tell you what it means.
      Somebody told you that “it is finished” means something, but have you tested that against scripture?

      What is the significance of Him stating this after having vinegar?

      Peace and Love fellow Cajun

  8. [...] The 5 Biggest Mistakes Catholics Make (And How To Avoid Them) 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. …more [...]

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