Avoiding Perfectionism

One of the pitfalls of Catholic living is perfectionism. At the personal level, the Catholic faith is all about striving for perfection in holiness to become closer to God. However, it is easy to get confused here and think we are called to perfectionism. Perfectionism is the misguided belief that we can be perfectly holy on earth. On the contrary, Catholics believe perfect holiness has its end in heaven, not earth. Therefore, we can improve on earth, perhaps to the point of sainthood, but not reach perfection. As holy as they were by the end of their lives, even the saints regularly committed sins (though probably all minor venial sins). Both perfectionism and striving for perfection involve the struggle to be perfect, but perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to disappointment while striving to be perfectly holy is healthy and leads to happiness.

The perfectionist expects perfection, maybe not immediately, but in some short timeframe. Then when they fall short of perfection, they get frustrated, angry, and stressed out. The reality is that all people on earth have committed sin and will continue to commit sin. Catholics strive for perfection in holiness and do make progress, but they know they will continue to make mistakes throughout their life. When failure hits them, they don’t get frustrated, they simply offer it to God and ask what they should do. It’s true that we believe in every moment we are capable of doing the right thing, but at the same time, we know that everyone eventually succumbs to temptation. This doesn’t give us a free pass but instead prevents failure from causing discouragement. We fail, learn from it the best we can, then continue striving for holiness.

Unfortunately, many Catholics believe living the faith means adopting perfectionism. Instead of becoming holier, better people, perfectionism leads to frustration and stress. Satan and his followers then latch on to fill the mind with thoughts of despair. Eventually, this can lead to giving up and abandoning the faith. Perfectionism can also lead to the sin of presumption, that we can somehow become holy enough to get to heaven without God. This tends to happen within people that are so successful they don’t see their own imperfections. Whether perfectionism causes an unhealthy frustration or the pride of presumption, it does not lead to God.

So perfectionism is harmful and can have disastrous effects. Instead, Catholics should simply strive for perfection (or holiness), do their best, and let God take care of the rest. In the long run, they will continue to make mistakes but slowly improve, slowly become holier, and eventually get to be with God.

The truth is that God knows all about our human struggles. His own Son lived as a human, so he knows how hard it is to be perfect. God knows we won’t be perfect on earth, so he’s not expecting it. At the same time, he knows we must be perfect to enter heaven. Anything that is lacking will have to be improved during the suffering of purgatory, so it’s to our own benefit to improve while still living on earth. Our efforts at perfection in holiness will lead to improvement, which will reduce our suffering in purgatory.

Furthermore, our struggles are pleasing to God, not because he wants us to suffer but because our continued determination in the face of failure is the biggest sign of our faith for him. We are choosing to suffer purely out of trust in God. He has told us what our reward will be for this faith, but we don’t have it yet, not for many years. Right now it’s all faith. That is a huge sacrifice for God and he knows it. A person doesn’t make that big of a sacrifice unless they really love the other person. God is greatly pleased to see how much we love him through this sacrifice.

The peace of the Lord be with you,
Jared

Advertisements

The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Way God Works

Since we humans were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), there are many parallels between us and God. One such parallel is how God and humans work. When work has to be done, we humans either do the work ourselves or instruct another person to do the work. God is no different. When God wants something to happen, he can do the work directly through miracles (Ex 24:12) or he can instruct his creation (angels, saints, and humans on earth) to do the work (Ex 3:2 for angels, Phil 2: 12-13 for humans). This truth has a few implications for Catholics.

When asking for help from God in our prayers, don’t be surprised if help comes in a different way than expected. Here the Catholic has some need they want God to address. Maybe they prayed for healing but no healing came. It’s possible God is going to work through a doctor, so God’s answer to the prayer is to see a doctor. Maybe another time they need comfort after a death in the family. It’s possible God is seeking to help them through their friends and family. In these moments it can feel like God is not helping, like he doesn’t care about our problems. God is actually helping; he is just choosing to help through our fellow humans.

Another case is when asking for guidance of what to do with our gifts. A Catholic might pray and pray for choosing how to serve in their community or which of their skills to foster and grow in. God could, of course, give them a straight answer in their heart or mind, but many times he will work through our fellow humans. Maybe the person sees an ad in the parish bulletin for a service opportunity, or maybe someone they’re talking to happens to mention a need they can help with. God has answered their prayer through one of his children.

The unfortunate side of the way God works is that it is hard to tell how God is working in our lives. We can get the feeling that humans are the ones doing everything, and God is not present. This is dangerous thinking. Satan has lured many Catholics away by encouraging doubt in their minds (CCC 215). Whenever you feel discouraged, always remember that the source of all love is God. Whether your prayers are answered directly by God or by someone here on this earth, it ultimately came from God. In this way, you can attribute everything to God and always maintain strength in your faith.

One last point is that God does not have to work. He could answer a prayer request with a simple “no”. Sometimes it is best if we find our own solution to a problem. He has given humans great intellect (CCC 286, 1955), with the ability to learn new things, precisely for this purpose. In these times we might feel all alone, but there is a very good reason that God sometimes decides to just watch from afar. We will not become saints automatically. Our faith must be continually tested to grow in holiness and open the path to sainthood (Jas 1:2-4).

If God solved all our problems, we would never have to face difficulty, never grow in holiness, never become saints, and worst of all, never be with God in heaven. For heaven to be an option, we must face obstacles and overcome them. Each time you make it through a tough situation, you become stronger in the faith. After enough struggles, you will have reached the point where you salvation is secured (2 Tim 4:6-8). God has won you over for all eternity. Having this on your mind during the struggles in life will provide continual relief. No matter how bad this time is, keep up the good work because you are inching toward eternal paradise.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Challenge of Tough Times

As Catholics, we live our lives doing our best to follow the laws God and the Church have given us (CCC 2342). This is a hard enough challenge in itself, but it’s even harder when times are tough. It could be the death of a loved one, a good job lost, or a devastating injury. Whatever the case may be, these tough times shatter the peace in our lives. We may have felt like we were finally getting somewhere with holiness, but then some big obstacle appears that throws out all we have learned. We are like a baby learning how to walk again. These are the times when God sees what we’re made of (CCC 164, 272).

In most cases, there is no running away or ignoring tough times. No matter how much we resist, they will change us. The choice we have is how they will change us: in a negative way or a positive way. In the negative outcome, a person asks “Why me?” and becomes angry. When they eventually get through the tough time they remain bitter at what happened, complaining to everyone they come across about how the world wronged them. In other cases, sadness takes hold and when they get through that period, they end up depressed, forever scarred by the experience. I’m sure everyone has had an experience where you ended up angry or depressed, but that’s not how God wants us to be feeling.

In the positive outcome, the person realizes they don’t know everything, the world is more complex than they initially thought. They are not God. They thought they were nearing perfection in holiness, but they are actually still infants compared to God and still need him very much. With this new perspective on life, they gain new appreciation for all their blessings. Their life might not be going the way they wanted, but at least it still has a few good things. In doing this, they are able to be grateful to God even in the tough times.

In one outcome, the person loses ground in their battle for holiness. In the other outcome, the person ends up stronger and happier than where they started, gaining more holiness along the way. It can be very tempting to choose the negative path because that’s always the thought whenever something goes wrong. Maybe we want to blame someone for the bad things happening. Other times, we might want other people to feel our pain by throwing anger everywhere we go. God has told us how to act throughout life though.

The one commandment from which all others come from is to love (CCC 1823). Half of love is giving, but the other half is receiving. That means when times are tough, lean on God, your friends, and your family. Continue doing your best to serve others, but this is the time to reach out and ask for help in return for all the sacrifices you have made for your loved ones. Not everyone will understand what you are going through, but God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes without understanding they may help exactly the way you needed, a loving act inspired by the grace of God.

Besides remaining positive during tough times, the other big challenge is remaining holy. When life is tough, a person might feel so bad, they just want some quick relief. The problem is this can lead to bad decisions. In their struggle with suffering they might start up an old alcohol habit again or take out their suffering on friends. These things might feel better in the short term but leave deep regret in the long run. Then even when the tough times are over, they have lost all the progress they made against the alcohol or worse, permanently lost a good friend. Even worse, they could trigger another tough time. Maybe the alcohol habit becomes an addiction and now a job is lost, a continuing cycle of negative events. We are most susceptible during the tough times, so this is when we must be extra careful about everything we do.

Overall, the challenge of tough times is turning a potentially bad period in our life into a very good period. If we can do this, we are well on our way to sainthood. The goal of all Catholics is to go to heaven (the beatific vision, CCC 163), which requires becoming a saint. Tough times can be some of the greatest growth periods in our life, but we have to work extra hard. Otherwise, we will be worse off than where we started. I encourage you to slow down during tough times, so you have time to make good decisions before every action. There is no rushing holiness. Be patient every day, doing your best in every moment. Look at tough times in this positive way: the path to sainthood, through perfection in holiness.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

What Being Catholic Means to Me

I was born into a Catholic family, but I really just went through the motions when it came to practicing the faith. I learned about religion in school, and my regular family activities involved going to church and receiving the Sacraments. I liked to please everyone, so I did what my teachers and parents wanted. Entertainment was what drove me though. Early on, it was toys like action figures and Legos, later it was movies and video games. I didn’t really care about anything but having fun. This remained the same until I graduated from college.

By this time video games had become my favorite source of fun. There was an endless amount of new games coming out, and I wanted to play them all. All my plans and goals were centered around games. I had lists of what I had done in existing games and what I wanted to do in the future with those games. I also had lists of all the future games I wanted to get and the things I wanted to do in them. In short, all I cared about was short term pleasure. When I got bored with one game, I always had another lined up to keep me entertained. This kept me busy in the moment, but one day I just felt like I needed to be doing more.

Since the only other thing I did regularly besides video games was go to church, I decided to focus on the Catholic faith. I immediately saw many ways to improve myself. While working on improvement goals, I became aware of the power of prayer. I also discovered that there was an endless amount of studying I could do about the faith. In addition to the Bible, there were countless writings by the Popes, Church Fathers, Saints, and fellow lay Catholics I could read and think about.

Just like there was always another video game to play, there was always another way to improve myself, another prayer to say, or another Catholic work to study. Unlike video games, which was just about short term pleasure, these activities were about the long term. These things would contribute to my salvation or the salvation of others. Going to heaven is a big deal, so these activities were all important. That made me really happy. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I started focusing on the Catholic faith, but I found it. I was looking for purpose in my life.

Being Catholic means being part of something bigger than myself. This purpose drives all of my actions. I do have free time, where I just do what I want, but a lot of times I am thinking about how I can help myself or others get to heaven. I realize my actions can have a huge impact, mostly on myself but also on the few other people I am able to interact with during my life. I can’t be Jesus and help everyone, but I can help just a few people. All of my actions contribute to Jesus’ overall mission of saving souls.

Being Catholic means being part of a family. At the local level, I have my parish family that continually prays for all the needs in our community. At the national level, I have the U.S. clergy that are all working towards improving the sanctity of the country. At the global level, I have the Church in Rome directing the world towards holiness. Finally, there is the Communion of Saints at the spiritual level that encompasses everything. All of God’s children have a unique connection to each other, especially during prayer. I have all these people pulling for me to get to heaven. I am never alone. In addition, I always have a good friend to talk to in God.

Being Catholic means losing a lot of worries. I don’t have to wonder what I should be doing. I still have free will to decide how I will seek holiness for myself or others, but I always know right from wrong. I know what will lead me to holiness and what will hold me back. The faith allows me to ignore many useless short term things and focus on the things that have meaning in the long run. I don’t have to worry about death because I believe in eternal life. Just as a child goes through puberty to become mature, a person must go through death to go to heaven. I don’t have to worry too much about the future. I only have to make sure I am doing good in the present. The future will work itself out.

Being Catholic means understanding what true love is. It’s not about what I am getting out of the situation. It’s what I can do for others. I might not get anything in return during this life, but it will all be rewarded in heaven. God will give me something for my good actions. True love is sacrifice. That doesn’t mean I have to kill myself to help others, but I do need to be regularly expending energy for others in some way. It means always being able to love others even in the worst of times.

Being Catholic also means having high standards. The way of Jesus is very hard. I can’t just go through life doing whatever I want. I constantly work to avoid sin. Until I die I will never be able to truly rest. There are times when avoiding sin is easy, which can function as a time of rest, but avoiding sin is mostly a constant battle. In addition to avoiding sin, I also have to find opportunities to serve others. I can’t just keep to myself. I have to give back in some way. I push myself as much as I can with these things. Sometimes I work too hard on these things and have to force myself take breaks. This always reminds me of my human weakness, which I look forward to overcoming when I am purified in purgatory.

Despite how hard it is being Catholic, I absolutely love the faith. In good times and bad, it always keeps me going. I might not know exactly what God wants me to be doing, but I know what actions are good. I know the possible choices. Life is a lot easier without the pressure to make all these decisions alone. God and the Church are there helping me. Some days I’m more interested in the faith than others, but I never get truly bored. A lot of times I will be having a lot of fun with some entertainment, but it eventually ends. I become bored with it. That doesn’t happen with the faith. There is always something meaningful to do related to my Catholic faith.

No matter how secular the world becomes, I will never leave the faith. I love it too much. As long as I live, I will be doing my best to become a saint and help the people around me to do the same. Some of those efforts will be through this website, and some will be in other areas of my life, but I will always be participating in Jesus’ mission to save souls.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared