Being a cradle Catholic is certainly not without its perks. Steeped in Church teachings and traditions for most of my life, I find getting to Mass every week and waking up early to pray to be fairly easy. I do my Lenten sacrifices and live it up in liturgical colors. I can answer many questions people may have about the faith, and I make efforts to teach my kids about God.

So I’m pretty set on this whole “following Jesus” thing, right? Right???

In addition to the Bible, Catholics have the Catechism, Canon Law, and Precepts of the Church, among a host of other documents, to instruct us on tangible ways we can remain in good standing with the Church and order our lives around God. However, I can easily find myself doing the right things in the right ways without truly changing my heart and putting my relationship with God at the center of my life.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus scolds the Pharisees who “tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Distancing myself from the Pharisees—you know, the ones who had Jesus murdered—can be easy. I am not like them, right? 

In Mark 12:28–34, a scribe asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Jesus responds that we should love God with all of our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. He then praises the scribe, who responds that loving God and neighbor is “much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” But I’m a modern-day Christian who isn’t slaughtering lambs and doves. This doesn’t apply to me, right?

However, I am a Pharisee when I attend Mass, respond at the right moments, and sing the songs but have my heart and mind focused elsewhere. Or when I have my rosary draped across my rearview mirror but habitually drive recklessly or call other drivers idiots. Or when I volunteer with a Church organization but complain the whole time about the way it is run.

These “burnt offerings,” the “mint and dill and cummin”—coming to Church on time and sitting at the front, signing up for every Meal Train for needy parishioners, wearing a crucifix around my neck, posting “Happy Feast of [Insert Saint Here]” on Instagram—can be empty if I don’t truly strive to love God and neighbor. Praying daily, attending Mass and Confession regularly, taking part in the life of the Church—these are all choices of “good Catholics,” but only if doing so exists in a true disposition of loving God first—not simply out of habit or because “it’s the right thing to do.”

How easy would it be if wearing our scapulars, buying Catholic art for our homes, or being a eucharistic minister were the litmus tests for holiness! We would not have to do any of the hard work, like trying to cultivate a rich prayer life or ministering to others when no one will notice. We could host priests for dinner but never call our child who is living a life we don’t approve of. We could close our eyes during our post-Communion prayer but let our minds wander to our plans for the afternoon. We could have many children and be a “good Catholic family” but never know our kids’ hearts or teach them about God’s love. We could—ahem—write for Catholic blogs but have no intention of practicing what we preach.

We could attend daily Mass, say our rosaries, and give generously to the Church without ever striving to be on fire with the love of God and change our patterns of sin. That pharisaical version of holiness certainly is much more comfortable. We’d never have to reckon with the struggles of spiritual dryness or loving those who really challenge our virtue.

I am not suggesting I can’t have a rosary hanging from my rearview mirror unless I am loving God and neighbor perfectly; I would never put one there! Yes, we should share our faith with others, and we should allow our love of the Lord to seep into the “non-Catholic” parts of our lives because our outward expressions of our love for God and neighbor can help conform our hearts into a greater holiness—and inspire others, too.

But ultimately, a rosary hanging from our mirror is like a “Save the Trees” bumper sticker. The message is important, but do we have it for accolades or because we are putting our beliefs into action? Are we virtue signaling without working on our interior lives? Is it merely a “burnt offering”? 

Let’s offer God our mint, our dill, and our cummin in the spirit of seeking true communion with Him, not just ticking off boxes of what it means to be a “good” Christian. May the love He gives overflow into our prayer lives, into our desire to align with Church teaching, and into our outward actions and love of others.