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Dear Fr. Joe: What does it mean to be a practicing Catholic?

Q: What does it mean to be a practicing Catholic? Do I have to believe everything the church teaches, or just most of it? And if I don’t go to Mass every single Sunday, am I still Catholic?

A: It’s wild, but as much as we throw around the phrase “practicing Catholic,” it’s a hard concept to nail down... so, great question! Let’s get right to it.
    First of all, many times, in questions like this, the easiest thing to do is slap down some guidelines and say “Stick with these and you’ll be fine.” That’s the temptation, because it’s so easy to track.

    The problem is, when we talk about faith, we are talking about relationship. When we talk about relationship, we lose something very special when we start explaining it as a list of what we must do and what we shouldn’t do.
    Think of it this way: Imagine your best friend approached you with a pad of paper and a pencil. Then she asked you to sit down and says, “Listen. I want to be your friend. I know I should. Tell me, what is the minimum I can do and still be considered your friend?”
    If that sounds crazy, that’s because it is. In the same way, when we look at our relationship with God, if our question is “What is the minimum I can do and still be Catholic?”, then we’ve got to stop and look at the core of the question.
    God wants a relationship with you. How intense is that? All our theology, all our sacraments, everything we do is all rooted in our belief that what God desires is a personal relationship with us, lived out in a community of believers. Take some time and ponder that, because its pretty intense and perhaps take us out of minimalist thinking.
    Yet, even with all this, we do need a list, don’t we? Part of the role of the church is to show us precisely what is needed. If we don’t hold ourselves to the standard that the Catholic faith gives us, it is way too easy to fall into self-deception. Ultimately, then, after a lot of looking around, I have  a list that I’ll share with you. While researching this, I read a letter that Bishop George Wiesner wrote for the Diocese of Prince George. It was a great source of information.
    Anyway – here’s what we’ve got. Please don’t see this list as infallible or perfectly extensive. There’s really no way to cover it all.
    In terms of the sacraments, a practicing Catholic has an active sacramental life. He or she goes to Mass a minimum of once a week and lives the Communion they receive by being in union with the church and her teachings. Since we are talking Communion, we need to remember that the sacrament of reconciliation is a huge part of this. Anytime we have committed a mortal sin, we have to get to confession as soon as possible before we attempt to receive Communion. We also need to hit our holy days of obligation.
    Besides public prayer, a practicing Catholic prays every day in private. Each day, a Catholic responds to God’s call to personal communion through quiet time and reflection. A practicing Catholic prays with his family everyday and never lets a schedule get in the way of that.
    The personal and communal prayer of a practicing Catholic compels her to go into the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus in the way she lives and loves. In terms of the social issues of our day, a practicing Catholic dedicates his financial, emotional and physical resources to those things that reflect the Kingdom of God on earth: We help our parish continue to function and minister effectively. A practicing Catholic votes and lives pro-life – we do not support abortion under any circumstances or in any form. We oppose capital punishment and unjust wars. We support initiatives that help the poor and downtrodden and give our time and treasure to helping the “least among us.”
    In short, her every action, political or social demonstrates a firm conviction that every person is a gift from God and must be treated in the same way that we would treat Jesus.
    Well, I’m out of space, but not ideas! Perhaps you can use this article as a jump off point for a discussion among your family and friends. See where God wants to challenge us to redefine what it means to be a practicing Catholic.
    Enjoy another day in God’s presence.

- Father Joseph Krupp