Every once in a while, you hear comments that reveal what people think that Catholicism is. These comments are noteworthy because they often inform the listener that there has been a misunderstanding about the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, these comments seem to come frequently from fellow Catholics. In my classroom, I would periodically hear comments like, My mom is REALLY Catholic, I’m not that Catholic, or But Mr. Summers, you’re like Catholic, Catholic. My students were using these phrases to denote the various levels that people were practicing their Catholic faith, and their communication was effective because I understood what they meant. However, what their comments were signaling was that in common culture there is a perceived separation between the things Catholics do and their personal relationship with Jesus. 

If I were to ask my students what a good Catholic looked like, they would normally respond with Someone who prays, goes to church every Sunday, and is a good person. While a good Catholic is certainly all of these things, this definition falls short. Why? Because being Catholic is more than someone who is good at doing tasks that a good Catholic is supposed to do. Somewhere in the education of Catholics, we have gone awry in separating the relationship with God from the good acts that we do. The good works that we do (including celebrating the sacraments) should be a flow of worship from the relationship we have with God. The relationship and good acts form a reciprocal cycle of grace that urges us to do the other. Why? Because having a relationship with God is what it means to be Catholic. In fact, having a relationship with God is what it means to be human. 

Paragraph 1 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) expresses this truth beautifully:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.

The creator of the universe desires us. He seeks us. He wants to give Himself to us. In every way possible, He invites us into His life even when we are lost in our sin. He wants more for us than completing a checklist of good works. 

And we desire Him! CCC 27 tells us:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

No matter the road that life takes us on, or the sins we commit, our soul is always going to desire God. It is never going to be fulfilled until we find him. 

Yet, we are men and women who experience love both spiritually and physically (in our body and soul). This is why God, who is Spirit, sends his Son Jesus to the world. God humbles Himself and becomes man to love us on our own terms. Then Jesus gives us the key not only to loving God back, but to loving all of His creation. He institutes His Body, the Catholic (universal) Church as the men and women who are dedicated to be in a loving relationship with God and all people. Yet somehow, we have boiled being Catholic to fitting mass into our schedule on Sundays and volunteering at fish frys every Lent. 

What true Catholicism is meant to be is a community of people, united in Christ who are constantly worshiping and praising God together which results in acts of love and charity to the local community. Aided by sacramental graces and rooted in a singular devotion to God’s kingdom here on earth, the church is meant to be a living part of Christ, awaiting his second coming. The Sunday worship, moral rules that we follow, and acts of charity are all supposed to be a reaction to a relationship with the person of Jesus who shows us the Father. These actions are meant to be done communally and are all integrated through graces given by the Holy Spirit. 

How do we change the current state of Catholicism? We have to be bold. We have to be willing to be vulnerable with our faith. We have to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15) We have to give people reason to believe that we have hope! Catholicism can no longer be a thing I am supposed to do, but a lifestyle of sharing Jesus with other people. Because if we are being honest, the list of things that we think ‘good Catholics’ do is probably the bare minimum in a relationship with God. And love never does the bare minimum. Love is only found when a relationship is so vibrant, that we go over and above. That is what God has done for us, and that is the relationship that you and I were created for.