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Catechism Confirmation Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary Mary P. Sacraments

Four Myths About Catholicism Even Catholics Believe

As Catholics, we encounter a lot of misunderstanding about our beliefs from people outside the faith. Many think we worship statues, see Mary as a deity, and try to buy our way in Heaven (etc.). But additionally, there are some myths about Catholicism that even many Catholics believe. Let’s face it – catechesis over the last 60 years or so has been sorely lacking. This has created a situation wherein faithful, well-meaning Catholics believe things that are contrary to Church teaching without knowing it. I know first-hand that it can be jarring to realize that something you believe to be authentic Catholic teaching is not quite true. But learning what is true helps us to grow in our faith, and evangelize more effectively. 

The following are some of the frequent myths I’ve heard Catholics espousing, and the corresponding truths of the faith. (I can’t do justice to any of these teachings in this amount of space. So, I encourage you to read more on each topic yourself, including following the included links).  

 
Myth: We can get to heaven by being “good people”/doing good works.
Truth: The Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by grace, through both faith and good works.

This means we do participate in our own salvation! Good works are very important! Yet, we cannot earn heaven by being or doing good on our own. Without the help of grace – which is God’s very life within us — nothing we do could ever be good enough to get us into heaven. (The idea that we can get to heaven on our own merit apart from grace is a heresy called Semi-Pelagianism). This is what makes the sacraments of Baptism and Confession so very important. Baptism initiates us into a life of grace. Confession restores us to a life of a grace when we have cut ourselves off from it via mortal sin.

I once had a disagreement with another Catholic over Matt Maher’s song, “Your Grace is Enough.”  She believed it was heretical. But, Scripture says God’s grace is sufficient (enough) for us. It is His grace that transforms our souls, and his grace that enables us to participate in the Christian life. Our faith and good works both result directly from that grace, and dispose us to receive more grace. And the grace itself is what enables us to go to Heaven. Without grace, faith is impossible, and good works are meaningless. 

This means that our beliefs about salvation don’t differ quite as drastically from Protestant beliefs as we often think. We all believe God’s grace is what saves us, and that we can’t work our way into heaven.

(Learn more about this topic here, here, and here).

Myth: The Sacrament of Confirmation is for a child to choose for him/herself to be Catholic, and become an adult in the Church.
Truth: The Church teaches that Confirmation is for completing baptismal grace and being sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation along with Baptism and the Eucharist, thus belonging close to the beginning of our faith journey. When we receive Confirmation, the Holy Spirit marks us as ones belonging totally to Christ. The Spirit pours Himself out over us in a special way, and bonds us to the Church more perfectly. It does not exist because a child needs a chance to officially agree to what his parents chose for him at Baptism. 

At Baptism, we are changed metaphysically. This change cannot be undone. We don’t need to receive another Sacrament to accept the change or make it permanent. A person can choose to stop practicing the Catholic faith, but they cannot choose to stop being a Catholic. The Catechism says, “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.” (1308)

Many Catholics are confused about this topic because even Church leaders have been perpetuating the above myth for years. One way they do this is by withholding the sacrament until the teen years. Canon law says that the normal age for Confirmation is the age of reason (around 7), and even babies can be confirmed if there is a danger of death. (Eastern Rite Catholics receive Confirmation as babies). 

Myth: The Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’s conception by a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Truth: The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception without sin.

“Immaculate” means very clean. Mary was conceived with a soul that was spotless, unlike our souls that are stained with original sin. This is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Of course Jesus was also conceived without sin. However, his conception by a virgin is “miraculous,” not “immaculate.”

A few years ago, I realized that the Gospel reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the account of the Annunciation. No wonder people are confused about the meaning of this feast! But, I think we read the Annunciation story because it talks about Mary being “full of grace,” or “highly favored.” This points to her status as one who was preserved from any type of sin.

While we’re on the topic, it’s important to realize that Christ was still Mary’s savior (as she herself proclaims). As God is outside of time, he could apply the salvific work of the crucifixion to Mary before it happened in history.

Myth: The pope speaks authoritatively every time he speaks publicly, and we must give unquestioned assent and support to all of his statements.
Truth: The Church teaches that the pope is infallible in very limited circumstances.

The pope can make mistakes in his conduct and his theology. Of course, as the highest Church authority and Christ’s chief representative on Earth, the pope deserves our allegiance and respect. We should be very humble and cautious when we evaluate and discuss his words. However, we don’t have to agree with or defend everything he says.

 Sometimes, popes are expressing mere opinions, which might differ from our own. Sometimes, they sincerely believe they are expressing Church teaching, but are actually in error. There have even been popes who were wicked men not living according to the teaching of the Church. The Holy Spirit prevents the pope from authoritatively teaching a falsehood as truth. However, he does not prevent the pope from all errors in thought, word, judgment, or conduct. We always should evaluate and understand all of the pope’s words in light of the constant and historic teaching of the Church. 

On a related note, some believe that the Holy Spirit actively chooses every pope. But as Pope Benedict XVI said, this isn’t quite correct. The Holy Spirit guides the process of papal election, but it’s up to the College of Cardinals to listen to him. They could ignore that guidance in favor of their own human judgment. Luckily, if that happened, the gates of hell still would not prevail against the Church. 

 

Catholic Sistas foundress, Martina, often says that learning about Catholicism “is like eating an elephant.” There is so much to consume and digest that it can only happen fully over a long period of time. What’s more important than knowing the ins and outs of every teaching of the Church is having a heart and a mind that are open to the truth when it is presented to us.

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Evangelization Ink Slingers Mary P.

An Introvert’s Guide to Evangelization

Several months ago, my husband became involved with a ministry called St. Paul Street Evangelization. He goes out into the community and talks to random passersby, handing out rosaries or other religious items. Recently, he asked me if I wanted to go. My answer was a firm, unhesitating “no.”  As someone who is both introverted and shy (despite popular belief, those are not synonymous), the last thing I want to do is go up to strangers and start conversations with them. Yet, evangelization is a requirement of the Christian life. We are not meant to keep the light of Christ and the joy of the Gospel to ourselves, but to go out and spread them to others. And our society needs this so badly right now.

So, what is a shy introvert to do?

I’m not an expert on evangelization, as I am just starting to make a more conscious effort at it. It’s been difficult for me to think about reaching out to others while I’m deep in the trenches of raising and homeschooling young children. I used to use this fact (along with my personality) as an excuse to avoid the mandate to spread the Gospel outside of the four walls of my home. But, lately, God has been calling me out of that mindset. Here is what I’ve learned about how to evangelize as an introvert:

  • Get out from behind the computer screen. If it were up to me, I’d just sit at my computer and stick to the written word as a way to reach out to others (like most introverts I know). Introverts can articulate their thoughts much better in writing. And, internet evangelization takes off so much of the pressure of social interactions. But more often than not, attempts at keyboard evangelization fail to bear truly good fruit. True evangelization requires making connections with people. And the irony of social media is that it can be a barrier to that. The internet certainly has its place (I am writing on a Catholic blog, after all). But, even in this digital age, human-to-human interaction is still the best way to make those connections and spread the love of Christ. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are doing your part simply by posting an article on Facebook or engaging in a combox debate on a theological or cultural issue
  • Seek out opportunities to evangelize in a one-on-one or small group situation. For example, my husband and I recently started volunteering for our parish’s marriage preparation ministry by becoming a sponsor couple. This means that we invite one couple at a time into our home and help them prepare for marriage one-on-one. Although this is not always comfortable, it is a better fit for my personality than some other forms of evangelization. Since the couple is coming to our home, knowing what we are there to discuss, there’s no need to figure out how to start the conversation nor to make a lot of small talk. This is much easier for me than going out into the street and striking up conversations with strangers. It’s also more suited to me than standing up in front of a large group and talking at them. (That was the format of the marriage preparation that my husband and I went through when we were engaged). Introverts are good listeners, and we also articulate our thoughts better when we have some time to think about them. Therefore, the one-on-one format of being a sponsor couple is a good use of my gifts.
  • Be ready to go outside your comfort zone. Like he summoned Peter out of the boat onto the raging sea, God often calls us to stretch ourselves and do things that seem scary. Maybe one day he will call me out into the streets with my husband. In the meantime, he still wants me to do things that are not easy for me. Like I said, I’m not always comfortable in one-on-one settings, either. When it comes to marriage preparation, I’m particularly nervous about discussions related to hard teachings such as cohabiting and contraception. But this discomfort makes it easier for me to lean on the Holy Spirit and let him do the hard work. If we are completely confident and at ease, we might not leave room for the Lord to work through us. Which brings me to my next point…
  •  Realize that you are just a conduit through which the Holy Spirit works. Understanding and accepting that other people’s conversion of heart is not in our control reduces the pressure of evangelizing. As an introvert (and a perfectionist!), I’m prone to stressing over what I’m going to say to people so that it’s “just right,” and over-analyzing conversations after the fact to see where I might have gone wrong. Putting the situation in the Lord’s hands makes it easier to let go of that stress. 
  • Pray. This is the key to the previous two points, and to the whole endeavor or evangelization. I pray often for the couples that I am helping to prepare for marriage. God is the only one who can truly equip them for marriage, changing and strengthening them where necessary. He is the only one who can equip us for the job of helping him.
  • Evangelize without words. I’ve been forcing myself lately to smile at strangers when I’m out and about. This probably seems silly to extroverts, but it takes a lot of willpower for me to do it. Generally, I prefer to keep my head down and avoid eye contact with people out in public. Though making eye contact and smiling at strangers is a lot easier than talking to them. (Contrast this with some extroverted relatives of mine who strike up conversations with everyone they meet!) When I do smile at people, some of them look at me strangely and maybe give a half-hearted smile back (probably fellow introverts!). But some of them light up, and respond with a genuinely warm smile. This small, seemingly insignificant interaction doesn’t impart any theological knowledge, but it does brighten their day and possibly make them feel more loved. This is a form of evangelization, too. Making a similar effort at warmth and kindness toward people you see on a regular basis but have no real relationship with (such as co-workers) eventually might lead to direct, verbal evangelization. They will be drawn to you and the light you exude. This will open the door for you to give an explanation for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)

To everything, there is a season. Maybe you aren’t in a season of life where you can volunteer for ministries in your parish, such as marriage preparation. But don’t do what I did and use your personality as an excuse to not do God’s work. I often think of Moses, who God called to confront the Pharaoh despite his protestation that he was not a good public speaker. Trust in the Lord to show you how to make use of the gifts he has given you, and to equip you for whatever task to which he calls you. 

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Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Mary P.

Done is Better than Perfect

My nine year old daughter spent the last week asking me what I thought she should give up for Lent. No doubt she was trying to come up with the absolute perfect Lenten sacrifice. She is just like her mother. As a melancholic perfectionist, I’m always on the quest for the perfect, or ideal. The ideal homeschool curriculum, the ideal chore routine, the ideal discipline technique, and yes, the ideal sacrifice for Lent. (And in my mind, the “ideal” sacrifice is one that is very arduous and unpleasant, and is reminiscent of the days when Catholics gave up all animal products for the entirety of Lent).

When I’m making plans, nothing can ever just be “good enough.” It has to be perfect. Because if I can just figure out what the perfect thing is, then my life will be perfect!

But the problem with the quest for “the perfect” is that it’s usually unrealistic. What ends up happening is that that perfect thing I spent so much time trying to identify does not work out perfectly in my life. The perfect homeschool curriculum that I spent hours researching? It doesn’t actually fit my teaching style or the unique circumstances of my life. That perfect discipline technique? My kids don’t respond well to it. That perfect Lenten sacrifice? It usually results in me biting off more than I can chew (which is ironic for a season of fasting). 

Then, none of it gets done, because “perfect” is too hard and too overwhelming. Instead, I default to nothing. If the science curriculum [on which I spent a ton of money] proves to be too much, there goes science altogether. If the Lenten sacrifice I chose is way too hard, I inevitably just stop trying. And then I’m angry at myself because I’ve failed. Wouldn’t it have been better if I had made more realistic choices and set more realistic goals in in the first place? Wouldn’t success have become more likely?

It turns out that most of the time, “perfect” in the abstract is not the same as “perfect for me.”

So, I’ve started reminding myself that “Done is better than perfect.” That’s my short [and, admittedly, grammatically-questionable] way of saying that something that seems ‘just’ good, but gets accomplished, is better than something that seems perfect, but doesn’t get accomplished. It’s a companion to the saying, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

A good curriculum that I realistically can implement in our homeschooling is better than the “ideal” curriculum that I can’t implement. A good Lenten sacrifice that I can stick to is better than an “ideal” sacrifice that I give up on within the first week or two.

This doesn’t mean I think that we should give a half-hearted effort at things. No, the Lord wants our best!

He wants our best. Not the best anyone could ever offer.

It takes humility and honesty with ourselves to see the difference between those two.

If you find that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew this Lent, be gentle with yourself, and choose something more realistic. In the end, the perfect Lenten sacrifice and the perfect curriculum, and the perfect fill-in-the-blank are the ones that we get done – faithfully, and with love.

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Abortion Ink Slingers Mary P. Respect Life

If Abortion Were Illegal

With the inauguration of President Trump, the subsequent Women’s March, and the annual March for Life, abortion has been a hot topic on social media lately. One of the staple arguments in favor of legal abortion is that making it illegal will not stop it. It doesn’t matter if abortion really kills babies. We would still have tons of illegal abortions, so we might as well ensure that they are done “safely.” This reasoning is unevenly applied to the abortion question as compared to other issues – no one would ever use it in other circumstances that involve violations of the rights of others. But leaving that aside, the argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny for another reason. It assumes that if abortion became illegal, practically the only effect would be that the procedure would become less safe. This is illogical and false.

If abortion were illegal, the culture surrounding it would change drastically, thus leading to fewer abortions and fewer total deaths.

If abortion were illegal:

  • More people would believe it to be immoral. An often overlooked feature of the law is that it functions as a moral teacher in society. When something is legal, people assume that it must be okay to do. However, when something is illegal there is much more of a stigma surrounding it. That stigma shapes the citizens of a society as their moral consciousness develops. It wouldn’t change the minds of the staunchly pro-choice overnight (or perhaps ever). But, it would slowly change the minds of generations to come. More people who believe abortion to be immoral likely means fewer people who will have them, perform them, or promote them.
  • It would be more difficult to obtain. Currently, abortion clinics are ubiquitous throughout the country, and many insurance companies cover abortion. Of course that would not be the case if abortion were illegal. Thus, it would take a lot more effort and resources to obtain one. Abortion advocates wouldn’t argue with this point. However, they likely would deny that this means that far fewer women would have them. But this is illogical. There are many women who are on the fence about having an abortion. Many more do not want one at all, but their spouses/boyfriends, parents, friends, employers, or doctors pressure them into it. If abortion were not so easily obtained, those women would be much less likely to go through with it. Even many women who would have little reservation about a legal abortion at the corner Planned Parenthood would think twice before going to an unregulated surreptitious clinic (or, especially, resorting to self-induced abortion). 
  • The societal expectation that women in certain situations will end their pregnancies would diminish. It’s common for pro-choice people to say “no one is pro-abortion.” But the reality is that there are many who are pro-abortion when it comes to other people’s babies (if not their own). When we as a society see a young/unmarried/poor woman with a swollen belly or a couple of kids, we judge her. We no longer judge her for having sex when young and unmarried (as in days past). Instead, we judge her for having babies. Who does she think she is, bringing another poor child into this world? The same is true for mothers who have babies with disabilities. I know people who received pressure from doctors and their own loved ones to abort babies with adverse prenatal diagnoses. Then, harsh judgment followed when they chose to carry those babies to term. The societal pressure to abort poor and disabled babies is very great. Many women cave to that pressure when they desperately want to keep their babies.
  • More effort would go toward ending crises instead of ending pregnancies.  As much as pro-choice people claim to care about women in crisis pregnancies, it seems they direct their resources toward making sure those women can kill their children instead of toward helping them find a way to lessen the crisis. Pro-life pregnancy resource centers are the ones providing women in crisis pregnancies with counseling, support, diapers, baby clothes, formula, etc. Pro-life ob/gyns (such as this one) are the ones providing them with low cost obstetrical care. Meanwhile, the government spends its time and resources over-regulating such places to make it difficult for them to help women. What if we had no choice but to unite together to save both mom and baby? What if the friends and family who would have pressured their loved ones into abortions had no choice but to rally around to support them, instead?
  • Risk-taking behavior that leads to abortion would lesson. It’s clear that the legalization of abortion led to an increase in promiscuity. Legal abortion promises sex without consequences. It’s that little extra insurance policy when your birth control fails (or you don’t use any). If that “safety net” were not there, then logically fewer people would take the risk of living promiscuously.
  • Medical professionals would still be performing the majority of abortions. Ironically, this is the one thing that’s likely to not change. In the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, physicians performed the majority of abortions.* They were not taking place mostly in “back-alleys” or with coat hangers, as abortion advocates would have us believe. Thus, women were not dying in droves from illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade. They wouldn’t be dying in droves in a post Roe v. Wade world, either.
  • Most importantly, the government would no longer be putting its stamp of approval on the killing of innocent humans, on the violation of the basic rights of the least among us. And this is really the only change that matters. It goes against the very purpose of government to allow the intentional and systematic killing of innocent people – and worse, to frame it in benevolent verbiage like “healthcare” and “right to privacy.” A woman who chooses to endanger herself by obtaining an illegal abortion is responsible for that choice, unlike an innocent baby who has no say in whether s/he lives or dies. Justice demands that the government try to protect the innocent baby, even if that makes abortion more dangerous.

People often compare illegal abortion to prohibition. Everyone knows that prohibition was a failed experiment in controlling social behavior. People drank anyway. So, people will abort anyway. However, this comparison fails. Abortion is not at all like drinking alcohol. If we are to believe the many pro-choice people who claim abortion is a difficult choice for a woman, and that no one is “pro-abortion,” then it’s obvious how different it is from deciding whether to take a drink of alcohol.  Prohibition didn’t work because there isn’t an innate knowledge of the supposed evils of alcohol written on each person’s heart. Alcohol is not evil. Drinking alcohol does not violate anyone’s rights in itself. It doesn’t go against the very nature of the person taking the drink. Prohibition was absurd on the face of it, inspiring contempt for the law rather than influencing people’s behaviors and consciences. 

However, if abortion were illegal, it would pave the way for people to start listening to their consciences again, rather than to government and social propaganda that dehumanizes the unborn.

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Domestic Church Mary P.

Financial Stewardship: Creating A Family Budget

Happy 2017! The new year means that people are thinking about ways to change and fix all the things about their lives that need changing and fixing. Faithful Catholics might think about improving their spiritual lives – resolving to start praying more, going to confession more, yelling less, being more grateful, etc. In the midst of that crucial spiritual stock-taking, I want to propose a more “practical” item that deserves consideration – finances. Specifically, I want to address creating a budget.

Money issues are a practical matter, but they have spiritual implications as well. For example, one of the major causes for marital strife and even divorce is financial difficulty or disagreement. Having a workable family budget goes a long way toward creating personal and familial harmony. Without a budget, there is much more room for stress and conflict. More broadly, money is a tool to be used in the service of our calling as spouses, parents, and missionary disciples. We must be good stewards of it in order to carry out that calling. Budgeting is part of that stewardship. 

I’m not in any way a financial professional or expert. Rather, I’m a wife and mom who takes care of the family finances, and has finally found a budgeting system that I can stick to (after eight years of marriage and many failed attempts). I’m someone who has witnessed the dire consequences in people’s lives of not being good stewards of their money. As such, I believe in the importance of budgeting, and want to share some tips for those who do not have a budget.  (There are many resources out there for further information on the topic of budgeting and being a good financial steward). 

  1. Recognize your need for a budget. Even if you are in the top tax bracket, you need a budget. Budgeting isn’t just for those who must watch every penny simply in order to feed their families. On the flip side, even if you think your budget would never be “in the black,” you still need one. You might think that your necessary spending outweighs your income (and thus rely heavily on credit), but creating a budget and tracking your spending will help you see where you might be able to cut back so that your budget can balance.
  2. Find a budgeting tool that works for you. Even if you use pen-and-paper or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that your craft your budget in a way that makes the most sense to you and is easily implemented in your life. I use a website called EveryDollar (created by financial guru Dave Ramsey). Until I discovered this website, I had never been able to create a budget that accounted for all my expenses (not just the monthly, predictable ones), let alone one that I was able to stay on top of. There are other websites and apps out there. Look around to see what will work for you. Take advantage of free trial offers for paid programs (as long as you can trust yourself to cancel before the trial is over if you decide you don’t want to use it!)
  3. Work with your spouse to create the budget, and make a mutual commitment to stick to it.  You both need to be on board with the budget in order for it to work! If either of you are reckless spenders, the budget will be sabotaged. (If you or your spouse are unable to get your unnecessary spending under control, considering talking to your priest or a counselor). Communicate and re-evaluate the budget often.
  4. Use a “zero balance” budget. This is a type of budget where you account for every penny that comes in. If you bring in more than you spend each month on necessities and “extras,” consciously allot the rest to savings or to paying down a debt. By using this kind of budget, my husband and I were able to pay off our student loans more quickly. You should go back and adjust the budget at the end of the month to make sure it zeroes out. If you over-budget in a category like groceries or gas, you can put that extra money toward a category you may have under-budgeted for, or toward debt and savings. Adjust the next month’s budget to reflect your actual spending habits.  
  5. Budget for the bills that you pay on a non-monthly basis, and other irregular expenses. For example, our water bill is paid quarterly. Each month, I set aside one-third of what I expect the bill to be, so that the money is all there when needed. I also have funds set up in my budget for things such as clothing, homeschooling materials, and home maintenance. I put some money into each of those funds every month so that it’s there when I need it.
  6. Track everything that you spend. This is where the website/app I use has made all the difference. I am not “on top of things” enough to record every purchase I make or keep every receipt. For a fee, my budgeting tool imports all my bank activity. I can simply drag and drop each item into the appropriate budget category. Since I rarely use cash to make purchases, this has made it extremely easy to keep track of every expense.
  7. Be realistic. For example, if you think you “should” be spending only $500 on groceries every month, but you can’t seem to come in under $600 no matter how hard you try, then budget for $600 and cut back somewhere else. Part of being realistic is budgeting “fun money” for you and your spouse to be spent however you want (barring anything immoral of course). This helps cut down on the frustration of adhering to a strict budget. If you create an overly-idealistic budget that you can’t adhere to, you are likely to give up on budgeting. 
  8. Set specific financial goals and use your budget to work toward them. One of these goals should be an emergency fund for those unforeseen large expenses (which tend to pop up in clusters). Other goals might include saving for a house or a new vehicle. (It’s best to pay cash for a vehicle rather than incurring debt. But, if you have to take out a loan, you still need to have a down payment saved up). You should think about long-term goals, such as retirement and college funds, as well. 
  9. Make charitable giving (especially to your parish) a non-negotiable. The Church does not require us to give a specific percentage of our income. But we are required to help provide for our parishes. Do not give from your surplus. Instead, give sacrificially, like the Scriptural widow who gave her last coin.

Successful budgeting usually involves a lot of trial and error. Like all efforts at self-improvement, it’s probably not going to come easily at first. Don’t give up. Financial stewardship -of which budgeting is a critical aspect- is part of a life of discipleship.