What does a Catholic look like?

While discussing my previous post on Catholic Home Schooling with Dom during our afternoon coffee (him) and applesauce (me) snack break, I decided that there was a larger point to be made. That is, many people have a very narrow notion of what you have to do and be to be a good Catholic. For example, how many times have I read things that imply that I am not a good Catholic because I don’t pray the rosary every day? (And I’ll admit I sometimes find myself falling into this trap too.)

But the simple truth is the Catholic Church is much bigger, wider, and far reaching than many people make it out to be. I realized a part of that truth during my semester abroad. Just standing in the wide arms of Bernini’s piazza, the famous St Peter’s square, surrounded by pilgrims from every nation, speaking most of the languages known to man, you realize that we are members of the Church universal. Few Catholics in the US today seem to have a clear sense of the bigness of the Church and the variety of pieties, devotions and practices that she encompasses.

Personally, I pray the rosary rarely. Most often when I am with other people, especially when visiting with Dom’s siblings, Evy and John, who pray the rosary with their families every evening. Sometimes I take it to the park and pray while I walk. I go through phases when I pray it more frequently. But I still have a hard time remembering all the mysteries much less saying them in the correct sequence.

My daily prayer is the Liturgy of the Hours. I pray Morning and Evening prayer and the Office of Readings daily. Often I add one of the Daytime hours and sometimes say Night Prayer. Dom has started to pray Evening Prayer with me, so it has become our family prayer and after it we have added a prayer to St Gerard for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery.

I try to go to daily mass. For a while I made it almost every weekday, but since the pregnancy getting up in the mornings has become a challenge and I’ve perhaps made it a half dozen times.

But the thing is I do what I think I need to do, what works for me, and what I can do. I’m not big into novenas or devotions to particular saints. The Sacred Heart really doesn’t do much for me nor does the Divine Mercy image, nor veneration of relics, nor Marian apparitions. But I recognize that for many people these are very important devotions and their primary means of personal prayer.

And the thing is the Catholic Church recognizes and has always recognized a wide variety in approaches to faith. St Paul talks about different gifts that come from the same spirit. We frequently hear about different vocations, everybody has a unique call. But I still get the impression that some people think some gifts are better than others, some calls are better than others, some prayers are better than others. And in some respects there is a truth to this: the priesthood is a higher calling. But the real question is not which is the higher call, but what is God calling you to do? What are the means by which he speaks to you, what are the tools which you can use to let him come into your life? Your highest call is the one God is calling you to.

There is only one Way, but there are many ways. Obviously the Church recognizes this or we wouldn’t have so many orders I can’t even keep track of them all. You can be a Franciscan, wedded to Lady Poverty, or a Domenican preaching the Word. You could be a Missionary of Charity, serving the poorest of the poor, or a Carmelite monastic, praying in the silent desert. Or you could not join an order at all: be a wife and mother raising children and living the vocation of family. Sometimes one can combine vocations: my father is a third order Carmelite, part of a greater community of Carmelites, but also a member of our family community and of our local parish community. The central point at which all of these aim, of course, is Christ.

I guess my point is that often times I feel I am inadequate not because I know I am failing to walk the path that God is calling me to walk but because I feel that path itself is being judged and found wanting. I know other people, good Catholics, who feel the same way. Their prayer life is not good enough because it isn’t the same as that of the Murphys in the next pew.

And that is what bugs me, perhaps, about some of the homeschooling stuff I read. It wants to promote that narrow 1950’s Catholicism, amost a fundamentalilst Catholicism that doesn’t seem to admit that there are other ways of being a good Catholic than the one my grandparents followed. It seems to think that Catholicism is a static thing. But it looked very different in the 1850s, the 1350s, the 350s. And those were all equally valid. It’s a form of chronological snobbery that what is old is necessarily better. the practice of the faith in a particular time and a particular place is not universal. The Church has always encouraged a healthy diversity in practice. That’s one reason there are so many saints to be role models of all the various paths to holiness. St Therese of Lisieux about as far as you can get from St Jerome; St Francis about as different from St Louis, King of France as two people can be. Except in the essential: holiness and love of Christ. And that is what people seem to lose sight of. They confuse the accidents of one person’s life with the substance of holiness.

If I don’t pray the rosary daily it isn’t because I don’t love Mary and revere her. It’s just that the Divine Office seems to work better for me.

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