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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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A Beloved Pope Becomes a Beloved Saint

pope john paul IIThis Sunday, on Divine Mercy Sunday, our beloved Pope John Paul II will be canonized as a saint. I doubt there was a single person who questioned that this day would one day come. Many of us are so thrilled that it is sooner than later! What a joy this day will be for all of us! I feel very blessed to be able to witness his life, his death, and his official canonization.

In his honor I want to share something I wrote on April 2, 2005. When our wonderful Papa died I felt it very intensely. How funny that a man I had never met, had never talked to, and who didn’t even know I existed would have such an impact on my life. But he did. He was such an influence in my life and I, like so many, mourned when he died. I look up to him for his teachings on life and love, forgiveness and trust. He touched me in so many ways.

I would love if you would share your memories of our amazing Papa with us. In the coming days we are sure to see how the world remembers him but I would love to hear how he affected your life. Has he helped changed the way you view others? Your view on life? Faith? How and why was he important to you?

Below you will find my memories of the days following his death. My heart still misses this great man but I know he has claimed his heavenly inheritance and is surrounded by all the other saints and angels giving praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What better reward could one ask for? On Sunday I plan to celebrate with the world as our Church recognizes and canonizes this great man. May we each live our lives in such a manner that glorifies our Lord in all we say and do. May those who see us in turn see Christ’s light shining brightly in the dark night.

A Sad Day for the World

pope john paul wailing wallRegardless of the faith you profess, the passing of Pope John Paul II is very sad. As a Catholic I am sad for many reasons but mostly because he was such an outstanding human. Notice here I didn’t say Catholic, I didn’t say Christian, I didn’t say man. I said human. The Pope could see past the invisible lines that separate us all from each other. He bridged gaps between Christians and Jews, between Christians and Muslims, between Jews and Muslims. He wanted the world to be united in its love for God. He took tremendous strides in helping to heal past pains and to make steps toward that ultimate unity that he knows the Lord hopes for. Yes, he was the leader of the Catholic Church, but he was a man that mirrored Jesus’ life, one filled with the love of God, concern for others and an unwavering faith.

pope john paul with babyThe Pope was so concerned about human rights that he made it a pillar of his ministry and evangelization. He lifted human life up and reminded us that we are made in God’s likeness and so must respect life in all its forms… from the unborn to the handicapped; from the youth to the elderly; from Americans to Africans to Europeans. All life was sacred and he was at the forefront in helping to defend and preserve the sanctity of life. He was definitely one of the soldiers in God’s army… ready to defend the gifts and the precious life that God gave us.

I have sat watching the news channels, seeing the life of the Pope unfold, hearing the testimonials from not only Catholics but from Jews, Muslims, and other Christians throughout the world. I am in awe at the far reaching affect that Pope John Paul II has had. God certainly worked through this holy man. He has touched so many lives. I think that some might think he had no effect on their lives but his firm stand on moral issues, his willingness to help all others and his desire to unite the world for the Lord does touch every single person.

I feel lucky to have lived in a time that was blessed with a man as holy and as dedicated to the Lord as Pope John Paul II was. We should all strive to have the faith and dedication that he possessed. I am sad that our Pontiff has passed but am thrilled to think of him in Heaven. He is no longer suffering. He is with our Lord Jesus now and one cannot be sad about that!

I pray that we are further blessed with another Pope who is as dedicated to God and His people as Pope John Paul II was. I pray that perhaps others will view the Pope as not just the leader of the Catholic Church but as an ambassador from God. Someone sent to help the world continue to heal, continue to strengthen our bonds and help us to see and live the life that God is calling us all to live.

May Pope John Paul II rest in peace.

pope john paul II

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7 Quick Takes Friday, no. 16: Prayer Intentions

The most important thing we can do as Catholics is pray. I’m sure we have all seen examples of the amazing power of prayer in our lives or the lives of others. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the intentions we Catholic Sistas currently have high on our list. We invite you to pray with us on many of these matters and to add your own intentions in the comments or to our Prayer Requests page. Here are our seven high-priority prayer intentions, in no particular order.


40 Days of Prayer for Conscience

There are two very pressing, current event prayer requests that are on all the Sistas’ minds. The first of these is the HHS Mandate that will go into effect August 1, 2013, which will force institutions and businesses that morally object to contraceptives and abortion to provide these things to all employees. This includes Catholic dioceses, schools, and hospitals. We’re praying our bishops will stay strong against the mandate and not be bullied into providing goods and services that our faith teaches are wrong. We hope you’re joining us for this 40 Days for Conscience Prayer Campaign that began July 1. We need everyone to pray. Follow our Facebook fan page to get the daily prayers.

Today’s prayer:



The Abortion Bill in Texas

The second pressing, current event on all our minds is the abortion bill in Texas, that would outlaw abortions past 20 weeks gestation. We happen to have several Sistas in Texas and many are in the Austin area. We are praying for their safety as they attend sessions at their state capitol, as well as praying for passage of this bill. To learn more, please check out these links and please join your prayers with ours.

Protect Babies and Women — Stand with Pro-Life Texas by Birgit

For Pro-Choicers: What Does the Texas Bill REALLY Say by Kerri

Word-FILLED Wednesday: They Chanted Hail Satan by Martina


CS Prayer Requests: General Intentions, Homeward Bound, Teardrops, Heavenly Ambassadors

If you haven’t noticed, at the top of our page there is a link titled, “Prayer Requests.” Click on that link and it will bring you to a form where you can submit a prayer request for all of us to pray for. We keep four lists and post them in our private group for our members to pray over. These intentions include:

General Intentions: Anything on your heart

Homeward Bound: For Christian friends and family we’d like to see come home to the Catholic Church

Teardrops: For those who have lapsed from the Catholic faith

Heavenly Ambassadors: For children who have returned to our Heavenly Father through miscarriage, stillbirth, or death at any age.



Praying for our marriages and those of our friends is always high on the priority list for us. Even those who aren’t married are praying for their future husbands. Praying for marriages (plural) in a much broader sense has taken on much more meaning of late due to the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Marriage is under attack in our country and we need to pray. We even had a recent prayer campaign for sacred matrimony in anticipation of the attacks on marriage we were all feeling. We have a great resource list here and you can see our prayer intentions here. Please pray for our individual marriages, those of friends and family, and for the strengthening of all marriages between one man and one woman.


All Priests and Religious

Pray for our priests and religious. They need our prayers! They are always in our prayers. Our priests have difficult jobs and both priests and religious live a very counter-cultural lives. They need our prayers to stay strong in their vocations. We also need to continue to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Please add your prayers to ours and don’t neglect this important intention.


Our Pope

The Pope always has the prayers of the Catholic Sistas. We hope he has your prayers too. Pray for our Pope to be a light to the world, to always be open to the Holy Spirit, and to keep the Church strong and united.


Holy Mother Church

It goes without saying that praying for Holy Mother Church is on all our prayer lists. We hope it is on yours, too. As the Church experiences more attacks across the world, we must pray for strength for all Her people.

Thanks to Jen F. for hosting the weekly Quick Takes. Check out her blog, Conversion Diary, for more Quick Takes posts from across the blogosphere.

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If I Were Pope for A Day …

Real Life Radio, a Catholic Apostolate of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, sponsors an annual “Real Life to Me” essay. We at Catholic Sistas are pleased to be asked to share this year’s winning essay with our readers. The station asked the local Catholic school students to reflect upon what it would be like to be Pope. They pretended they were “Pope for a day”* and they wrote about all the details of what they would do – the causes they would champion, the places they would go, the people they would meet, etc. The overall winner was John Adaniel, a 5th grade student at Sts. Peter and Paul Regional School in Lexington, KY. You can hear John and the other finalists reading their essays on the radio by going to this Real Life Radio page.

Without further ado, it is our pleasure to share with you the winning essay of the “Real Life to Me” 2013 essay contest.

If I were Pope for a day …

John Adaniel reads his winning essay on the radio with Real Life Radio manager Leo Brown

I will marvel wonderfully on the thought God has given me the task to shepherd his flock here on earth and enjoy with gladness the trust he gave me. Then I will SIT to listen to his whispers and loving directions, while there I will praise him, feel him and thank him for all the blessings he has showered on his people, and from the lowness of the chair, I will reach out to the “UNs” of this world: the unborn, unloved, undocumented, unheard, unfed, unclothed, undesirables, and the unappreciated; those who did not do their homework and those who did not do well in school, that they may be Unchained from their afflictions and may they climb on my knees for comfort without hesitation. I will make the Chair of Peter a chair for gathering, harmony, compassion and not for judging others.

Then I will STAND to raise my hands up to offer all that I am, that I may raise up those that are low, struggling, weak, wounded and tired, from the cares of this world, that up there they may feel the restoring breeze and cool mist that comes from his rest and that they may realize that this is my job as their servant: to help them channel the Lord. I will continue to stand even if I myself get weary as long as everyone has the chance to be refreshed.

The I will RELAX, to free myself from overburden that which I myself made it to be. I will be full of care and free on the thought that Peter, our first Pope, had but his sandals and determination and trust in God when he first guided our church to where it is now. I will relax knowing that every few minutes somewhere around the world, a priest mentions my name during the mass and people pray for me. I will relax knowing that every few minutes bread and wine is being transformed into the true body and blood of our Christ–the one who put me here. I will relax knowing that whatever my decisions in church matters is directed from high above.

If I were Pope for a day, I will spend the whole day with others, because that’s why I’m here as a Pope, a servant, to share, to be shared, and to be partaken.

*Please note that we understand that not everyone is eligible to be Pope. This contest is simply designed to spark interest in our faith in a fun way.

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When in Rome…

Have you wondered what it would have been like to be in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke appeared? The electricity of it all? Seeing the black smoke turn to white and hearing the crowd erupt into cheers? It is my great pleasure to bring this mini-interview to you by someone I work closely with on my parish Pastoral Council, Ana-Cristina Gonzalez, Director of Stewardship and Development with St. William. The added bonus is that she graduated from the same most excellent university as I did – the University of Texas at Austin. Hook ‘Em!! While this small detail may not be of consequence to many, this is, in fact, a large deal at our parish considering our associate pastor, Father Jonathan, is also a Longhorn grad, while Father Dean is an Aggie, by proxy.

When I first heard Father Jonathan {and Ana-Cristina} were in Rome – my kids actually filled me in on that detail – I was chomping at the bit to hear the story. The whole story. First I heard bits and pieces from Father Jonathan after Mass, then I saw Ana-Cristina at our Welcome Sunday event and touched her arm to see if any Rome was still on her. No dice, but she told me a lot about what happened. Then I saw Father Jonathan and asked more questions. I knew this story needed to be told and asked them to share their experience. I hope you enjoy Ana-Cristina’s account of what happened and please feel free to ask her your own questions in the combox!

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Ana-Cristina and I’m the director of development at Saint William Catholic Church, a parishioner of Saint Mary Cathedral, and graduate of THE University of Texas at Austin and Gonzaga University. I’m also the aunt to the best niece in the whole wide world! The trip of the lifetime that you’ve asked me to reflect on all began in 2011 in Hallettsville, TX when a big group of friends from college gathered together go to Mass, catch up, and eat good food. God only knew what He had in store for us.

Q: Can you give back story on the trip? Were you there specifically for the conclave or was it a coincidence?

My friends and I had begun talking about taking a trip to Rome since late 2011. It was purely a coincidence (or God-incidence) that we were there. I can only speak for myself, but I was very upset when Pope Emeritus Benedict announced his resignation purely because of selfish reasons. I could not believe that I would be in Rome when we had no Pope!

Q: How long were you in Rome prior to the start of the conclave?

We left Austin, TX on March 4th and arrived in Rome on March 5th. We then traveled by train to Assisi where we spent two days exploring the beautiful churches and Basilicas. We then returned to Rome and spent the remainder of our time there. The conclave started the day we took a trip to the Amalfi Coast, so I missed the first vote that night but I was ok with it because I knew it’d be black smoke!

Q: Tell us about the atmosphere of St. Peter’s Square prior to and during the conclave.

Throughout our whole trip there was a definite buzz in the air. Assisi was pretty calm, as it’s known to be, but there was still a sense of excitement. Because our trip included two priests, Fr. Tommy and Fr. Jonathan, it was definitely a topic that came up with the locals. You could really feel the excitement in Rome…. activity in the square increased from day to day. Each day brought more media, more photographers, more people. This especially increased as the conclave began and wasn’t limited to the square.

Q: Where were you during the first and second smoke signals?

Our first full day in Rome we celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s at the Clementine Chapel. This chapel is very special because of the bones of St. Peter are literally behind the walls. This was also the day we went on the Scavi tour. We were directed to get to the tour by way of the Pope Paul VI hall. We literally watched Cardinals walking into the hall, being dropped off by car, surrounded by media as they were continuing their meetings and deciding when to begin the conclave. It was awesome being a witness to our church in action! We kept wondering if we were watching our future Pope walk by us. That day was also when the chimney was being installed. I was not present for the outcome of the first or second votes. During the first vote, I was just returning to Rome from a beautiful tour of the Amalfi coast. I had every intention to see the outcome of the second vote, but my friends and I got caught in a deep discussion about the future of the church. It was a great conversation, but by the time we realized what time it was, people were leaving the square after seeing black smoke.

Father Jonathan, fourth from the left, and Ana-Cristina, fourth from the right.

Q: With your trip coming to a close and the anticipation of the third and final smoke signal before you left Rome, what went through your mind about the experience?

This is a really good question. I was telling one of my priest friends about my trip and he asked me, “Did you have a feeling that you would see white smoke?” I told him, “ Father, I am so stubborn that seeing black smoke didn’t even cross my mind.” There were some doubters in our group that it wouldn’t happen that night and that it would happen while we were in the air flying home, but that thought was so sad to me, I wouldn’t even let it in. I had rationalized the time line and it just made sense that it would happen the night before we left. This vote was so different than any other vote we would ever know because of Pope Benedict’s resignation. I thought it would have to be a shorter deliberation because of all the time the Cardinals had to prepare before the conclave began. White smoke for the third vote just.made.sense.

Q: Describe the third smoke signal experience. {i.e. white smoke, running to the Square, the sound of the bells, the announcement of Pope Francis, the electricity in the air, the weather}

My friends and I arrived to the square at 5 p.m. That day was so rainy and cold. It was miserable. About an hour and a half later, we were getting discouraged by the rain and long delay, so we decided to move towards one of the screens and I was going to sneak out to the restroom. We decided on a meeting place, and I rushed to a café. As I was walking back, the guards would not let me in the way I exited and were pointing me all the way back to the top of the square. I was nervous because there was no way I would find my friends if I had to go all the way around. It was at that moment that I heard the crowd gasp. Smoke was coming out! At first it looked black, and there were sighs of discouragement, but they quickly turned to loud cheers, when we realized the smoke was white. Then the bells began to ring, oh the beautiful bells, that let us know we had a pope. I was still outside the barriers at this point, but my guardian angel, in the form of a rebellious man, jumped the barricade and I followed. I found my friend Tina standing in front of the screen, tears streaming down her face smiling. Habemus Papam! Our other friend, Renato, found us and we began running toward the front of the square. We were near the front left side immediately in front of the statue of St. Peter. Our focus shifted from staring at the chimney, to staring at the balcony waiting for our new pope. The Swiss Guards marched out followed by two marching bands . Then we began to see curtains shuffle. The crowd cheered, but nothing. Lights began to turn on, still nothing. Then the curtains began to move more and the door opened. Cardinal Tauran announced what we had been waiting hours (and days) to hear, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam.” The crowd went crazy, but quieted quickly to hear the name. All we could catch was Bergoglio and the name Francesco. Standing nearby were a group of young Franciscan seminarians that immediately erupted into cheers and began jumping up and down chanting “Francesco! Francesco!” I began asking, “Is he Italian? That’s an Italian last name.” Someone nearby answered saying he was from South America and then another person said he was from Buenos Aires. I could hardly believe that the church now had its first pope from the Americas! A few moments later, Pope Francis walked onto the balcony. He stopped to look out at us for a while before he said anything. I’ve read many opinions on how he looked or why he did that, but it felt to me that he was taking it all in. I didn’t see fear, I didn’t see timidity; I saw a man (perhaps with a little shyness); I saw our shepherd looking at his flock. And then his first words, “Buona Sera.” The crowd erupted with cheers again. As he continued to speak, the crowd hung on his every word. I don’t speak Italian, but I speak Spanish, which helped me understand most of what he said. It was so powerful to hear such a big crowd praying together for Benedict XVI by reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Pope Francis talked about the journey of love and trust we are taking together with him. People would cheer sporadically during his speech, but when he asked for us to pray for him, silence immediately fell over the crowd. More than 100,000 people were in the square that day and it was one of the most intense, powerful, moments of prayer that I have ever experienced. Heads were bowed, hands were raised, and all were silent. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it! Pope Francis then bestowed his first papal blessing on all of those present, watching on television, and listening on the radio. In that moment, I began to grasp the idea of the universal church. We were connected, no matter if we were in St. Peter’s Square, at home 3,000 miles away, listening on the radio, or watching on television. We were all together in that moment receiving a blessing from our pope. We were miles apart, but connected in that moment. I felt renewed, hopeful and excited. We left St. Peter’s that night for the last time in complete and utter awe of what we had just witnessed and what we had been a part of during those 10 days. The 10 of us went out for our last meal in Rome and we celebrated our new shepherd. And we celebrated and gave thanks for the many blessings that God had bestowed upon us throughout our time in Italy. Viva il Papa!!

To read more about Ana-Cristina’s adventure, please check out her story in the Austin Diocese publication, Catholic Spirit.