I'll be honest I did not have a really good idea of what an average Catholic parish was like until I started working at one three years ago. I grew up Catholic but was never all that involved with any parish community. Now after spending three years working within a parish community I'd like to share some important points that I think would help many average Catholics in the pew.
No matter what you've been taught the Catholic Church is not so much about rules and regulations but about a passionate loving relationship between Creator and creature. To be honest it seems like too many Catholics have become comfortable with the "rules and regulations" story. It easier to trade heavenly reward for following rules than to enter in to an authentic , passionate relationship with the creator.
All sin matters and Confession is not just something you need to do once a year. We are giving ourselves too much of a break on sin. Sin is real and it has consequences for this life and the next. It affects our intimacy with God. We are all sinners so lets face the facts and work on those things hurting our neighbors and keeping us from greater intimacy with God. Once we recognize this fact we fall in love with confession. I am so thankful my God has set up such a beautiful sacrament for me, a great sinner, to go to for mercy.
The way we receive Communion says a lot about the state of our soul. I wish we could take a video of what communion looks like at an average parish and show it to them. Greeting people, talking, checking phones, hands swinging and the like have become the norm. Many people receive communion like they are taking candy. If we teach our children one thing it should be how to "Communicate" correctly. Contemplate the gravity of what we are doing on the way up to communion and let our outward actions show the disposition of our soul.
Learn the Gospel. Most Catholics do not know the basic Gospel story. You just can't know Jesus without entering deeply into the Gospel story. If you are really moving you can read a Gospel in an hour. Commit your self to reading a Gospel a week.
A relationship involves communication, you need to start praying. Our relationship with Jesus does not end with sunday mass. Catholics must have a personal daily relationship with Jesus. It doesn't need to be strenuous or profound but it does need to happen.
Despite what every "CCD" book tells you Baptism does not make you an "Intentional Disciple." Being a disciple means forming your entire life around your relationship with God. It means asking God what he wants from every moment of our lives. Discipleship is a radical life of relationship and change.
Evangelization is the common duty of all the baptized. If you are a Catholic then necessarily you must evangelize. There is no question about it. You will not keep your faith without sharing it.
If you want to get the most out of the Faith you are gonna need to learn some basic theology. People need to learn the basics of the seven sacraments. You need to know what it means to be a Priest, what it means to be baptized and confirmed, what the Mass really is. This will change the way you live.
If you disagree with a teaching of the Church you have a duty to learn why the Church teaches it. So many catholics out there disagree with the church on something but they don't ever look into the "why" behind the rule. You can't just assume you are right about everything. You have to give your best effort to understand the teaching you disagree with.
They'll know we are Christians by our love. We must build communities of love in our parish. We are called to community. This is a hefty call because community requires sacrifice for others. We must continually encounter each other in love.
When you work at a bar you have plenty of downtime with nothing to do but talk to your co-workers. This was the case when I worked security at Red Square in Burlington Vt. Red Square was a big club/ bar on the main street of Burlington and because of the secular nature of the place the “fields were white for harvest.”
One of the first things that struck me was how many people working there identified themselves as “catholic”. They weren’t practicing the Faith but they weren’t ashamed to admit to me that they were baptized in the Church. The other unfortunate thing that struck me was how well read most of them were in the New Age trends that are so popular right now. Almost all of them had read the book “The Secret” and many of them were devoted readers of “A New Earth”
When I would ask why they turned to these books and teachings many of them answered that they were looking for fulfillment, peace, meaning, love, light and life. When pushed they struggled to actually define what these themes meant. My natural question would be “Do you feel like you are really living now?” and they would all describe this process of “enlightenment” they are going through. They would say something like, ”well I am getting there.”
The most disturbing part of all of this is that the themes that appealed to them (fulfillment, peace, meaning, love, light and life) are all Christian themes rich in meaning. It amazes me that so many of them probably heard about things like Light, Love and Light thousands of times in their Christian childhoods and yet they think these New Age movements are the real place to find them.
I started to realize that I had to use these themes while witnessing to them in order to appeal to that need and desire in their hearts. This was an easy thing to do because each of those themes find their source in Christ Jesus. While I usually try to stress the aspect of conversion and the change a relationship with Christ has made in my life, to those experimenting with the New Age movement I tell them of the inflow of light, life, love and true peace coming from our Lord.
Here are some things to think about when dealing with someone interested in the “New Age” spirituality (particularly the popular trends now publicized greatly by Oprah etc…)
Bring reality to the forefront. An outsider with a Christian worldview might look at some of these teachings and quickly realize at there core is a denial of actual real events happening in the world. They draw strongly on the idea that “pereception is reality”. Many of them talk about a sort of “gate” they think they control letting in only positive events. Remind them of reality and the idea that we are living in a real world and need real solutions to things like suffering, anger, hate, death, and stress. Christ present a real solution to this real broken world. Christ is not an escape but an answer and because of this they must admit, in the end, that He is more real than what they are escaping into.
Remember who’s behind this It is common knowledge that direct involvement in the occult can lead to extraordinary demonic attacks. But I have a feeling that deliverance ministries, and Exorcists in America will be bombarded in the years to come with cases originating with the involvement with these New Age teachings. Some of the “teachers” or gurus even admit to learning these teachings through “Channeling”. The Evil One is behind this and so while they may not be witches or Satanists they may still be under extraordinary influence of evil spirits. Pray for protection, liberation and healing.
Present Jesus the way He was meant to be presented. I am certainly no expert, by any means, at evangelizing. But one thing you could never say is that I present a boring version of the Gospel. Unfortunately many of these people who were raised Christian never heard the Gospel preached correctly. This is especially true for Catholics. CCD classes just didn’t usually cut it. Christ came to set fire… Think about that before ever telling someone about Him. He is dynamic, engaging, dangerous ( to our mediocrity) and full of life. He is not boring, dull, binding or sad. If they disagree then they need a second look. A real look this time.
In the end a joyful witness is the best medicine.Exhibiting joy and peace in your own life and identifying that it can only come through a passionate relationship with the One who is light, life and love is the only remedy. Eventually they will realize that none of those ideal they are striving for can be obtained through following the teachings they read. Hopefully (we pray) they will remember where we found them.
If they are Christians remind them that these new age teachings are not in line with scripture or the Church. Believe it or not but many of them are surprised to hear this. I was once invited to lunch at the home of one of the most influential pro-life, Christian, conservative philanthropists in America. She had pictures of herself with all the republican presidents for the last 40 years, as well as pictures with Billy Graham and several Cardinals. When lunch began each of us sat down to a copy of the book “A new Earth” for us to take home. She had no clue the ideas in this book were hostile to Christianity.
Love is shown through real concrete actions. One of the most popular leaders in the New Age movement, one that has made his way into the lives of countless Christians has this strange teaching about sending certain feelings to others. For example he will say that when he encounters a difficult person he will start sending them feelings of love and positive energy. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the perfect answer for this nonsense. No one will doubt the incredible love of this woman. You can ask them to imagine if all she did was stay clean and tidy and “send feelings of love to people” instead of getting down embracing people, cleaning them and feeding them. Would they even know who she was today if that were the case?
Psychology, Success literature and Self help are not New Age. Many people take up these books thinking they are “self help” books. This is not the case. The teachings in these books are about much more than discipline, habits, relationships, goals etc. They are presenting a new world view and are therefore hostile to the Christian Faith. Do not let them tell you it’s just a self help book.
Read the Churches Statement on the New Age movement. The Vatican Council for Interreligious dialogue released a document called, “Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life.” It is an excellent start to understanding the differences between the two beliefs. It can be found here:http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html
All the gods of the nations are idols but the Lord God brings new life…
When the prodigal son returns and his father holds a feast the brother complains to Him. Many of us can understand where he is coming from in his complaint. The Father’s response tells us an amazing lesson about the spiritual life.
The Father responds: “all that is mine is yours…” In this simple statement he sums up why true Christians are so joyful.
When I worked at a high school for a year it seemed like the common notion among the students (even the really mature ones) was that Christianity limits freedom and doesn’t contribute to happiness. At best they hoped for some sort of a compromise with the pleasures of the world and Christian living. At the same time many of them couldn’t figure out why the Campus minister, Sr. Julie, was so happy. Sometimes I would try to engage them and help appease their curiosity. My answer was always simple: Holy Joy.
Holy Joy is the only thing that can explain why someone who abstains from the pleasures of the world, seemingly limits their own freedom, and lives for things entirely foreign to the popular culture can be so happy. Holy Joy comes from recognizing that all that is God’s is for us. What the brother of the Prodigal son and most people in this world do not understand is that the reward is Christian living. When we live for Christ we are given access to peace, joy, adventure and yes even pleasure that world could never have. That is what fills a true and Radical Christian with Joy.
Holy Joy comes from a relationship that finally satisfies us. The world could ever understand Holy Joy because the world cannot figure out how to be in a relationship where we give of ourselves completely. Holy joy is the mark of the truly free and intense Christian.
Give yourself to Christ today. Experience true freedom. All that God has is for us! You will be filled with Holy Joy!
Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. Mother Teresa
For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
I have to apologize or repent. I lost faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. I really did. There was a time in my life when I would start a retreat or a talk by saying that God is going to work powerfully. I had faith that the Holy Spirit would come and manifest Himself powerfully when we asked. I had faith when I told a couple, in front of the abortion clinic, that if they chose life God would bless them. I had faith and I never doubted.Sometime between then and now I lost that faith. Sin, intellectualism, unfaithfulness to prayer and secularism changed the kind of Christian I was. God has slowly been making me aware of it and it is sickening. I want everyone to understand that God does work in peoples lives and we can have faith in that. The stories from the book of Acts aren’t just fairy tales and they aren’t just the stories of the original apostles. Those stories are our history as Catholics and all the mighty deeds they contain can still be found in our lifetime. This includes Pentecost!
Maybe we all need to step back and take a look at the kind of Catholic we are. Maybe we need to remember when Jesus first came into our lives. When we were in the tombs of our sin, unable to save ourselves, and we heard those mighty and bold words, “Take away the stone!” God called us out of our tombs of sin and into His abundant life.
Do not be afraid to tell people what God has done in your life and promise that He will work mightily in their life as well. Do not be afraid to pray for people. Do not be afraid to tell people that God will bless them, heal them, deliver them and raise them from their tombs of hopelessness. Most of all: Tell anyone and everyone how much God loves them and that He wants to have a passionate relationship with them. Have faith in the mighty deeds of the Lord.
The following is a prayer of surrender to the Holy Spirit. Try praying it everyday. Surrender more and more to the God who loves you. Have faith that God will work mightily.
Dear Jesus, I am so sorry for my sins and my unfaithfulness. I ask oh Lord for the grace to faithfully serve you each and everyday. I surrender myself to you totally and completely. I ask that You send Your Holy Spirit into me and stir up the gifts I have received. Enflame my heart Oh Jesus. I surrender all. Come Holy Spirit. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen
Take away the Stone! John 11:38
I have been reading a lot of the old Baltimore Catechism. It is a great work of the Church. The reason I love it so much is that it is so incredibly simple. A person could read the first page and just about have the direction he needs to live the rest of his life. It’s in question and answer format and one of the first questions is “Why did God make me?” This is the question that has been on humanity’s mind since the dawn of time. “Why am I here?” I love Philosophy but you can get real confused and wrapped up in the question of Why am I here? Or Why did God make me? People have messed this question up for years and years. Some, influential people, have even confused entire cultures and ages because of their wrong answer. I think most people in our culture and age are confused because of problems they run into when trying to answer this question. People would do well to turn back to their dusty old Baltimore Catechism. Page one asks, “Why did God make me?” And answers, “God made me to know him, love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.” This is our vision for life. We are here to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. It’s simple
Dave VanVickle is a Catholic speaker and writer focusing on the Universal Call to Holiness and Authentic Catholic Spirituality. He is currently employed as the Director of Evangelization at