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

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Maintaining the Trinity of Our Health

Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity. There is one being, God (CCC 200), with three components: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (CCC 237). These components are called the “persons” of God (CCC 253). Similarly, humans are one being with three components: the physical, mental, and spiritual. These components are very similar to the persons of God in that they each have a distinct purpose or direction yet still serve the whole being (CCC 254).

The three components of the human being all have their own needs. The physical side of our being has several basic needs like food, water, shelter, and clothing. The mental side of our being also has needs. We all have a need to socialize. We need meaningful work to occupy our minds. The spiritual side of our being has just two needs: to love and be loved. It is good to love others through service. Since we can’t do everything ourselves, we also need others to serve us sometimes.

When the needs of a component are not met, problems occur. This doesn’t happen with God because he is perfect (CCC 41), but humans are not perfect. Our physical problems lead to sickness or injury. Mental problems lead to sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, or many other negative feelings. Spiritual problems lead to aimlessness and despair. Each component has a different way to fix the problem or heal the damage.

When we get sick or injured, physical problems, we go to a doctor. They know all about how the body works internally whether it be bones, muscles, veins, or organs. When we have anxiety or depression, mental problems, we see a mental health therapist. They know all about feelings, what they mean, and what to change to improve them. Finally, for spiritual problems, we can see a priest. They are the experts in holiness. Nno matter which component is having trouble, we have a specialist we can ask for help.

Beyond when we are having problems, our physical, mental, and spiritual health each require a certain amount of maintenance to remain healthy. For physical health, we need to exercise regularly and eat healthy. For mental health, we need to foster our relationships and reduce stressors in our life. For spiritual health, we need to reduce our sins and make changes for holiness. To make sure we are doing the proper amount of maintenance, I think it’s important to evaluate our maintenance of our physical, mental, and spiritual health once a year. The overall question to answer is:

Are you doing the proper maintenance for each part of your being or are you missing something?

This large overarching question can be broken up into questions for each part. I have listed a few questions for each part below. These questions are just samples to give you an idea of what to think about. They are far from comprehensive. You should cater them to the maintenance you personally need to remain healthy.

For the physical check-up, look at your diet and exercise:

  • Are you getting enough aerobic exercise each week?
  • Do you lift weights to improve muscle strength?
  • Are you eating too much junk food?
  • Do you eat too many calories?

For the mental check-up, look at the state of your mind:

  • Are you stressed out or depressed?
  • Do you socialize regularly?
  • Are you too obsessed with some part of your life?

The spiritual check-up involves looking at your sins and holiness:

  • Are there any sins you seem to always be committing?
  • Have you done all you can to avoid near occasions of sin?
  • Am you progressing towards holiness or is there some action you need to take?

If you don’t have them already, I encourage you to create a few simple ideals based on the questions you asked. Then once a year check where you are at with your personal ideals. See if you are doing well or have more work to do. It’s perfectly fine to not be meeting the ideals. The point is to get a snapshot of where you are at. Then you have an idea of what you need to do to improve. A good time to do this is the beginning of the year, the same time you are making your New Year’s resolutions.

In my case, I put my ideals for physical, mental, and spiritual health in my Personal Catechism. Since my big focus is the Catholic faith, I devoted four whole chapters (Prayer, Study of the Faith, Teaching of Others, Service) to spiritual health. My physical health is covered in the Health chapter. My mental health is not confined to any section. Elements of it are contained in several of the chapters. For example, Ideal 5.5 to find happiness in my work is all about staying positive no matter what I have to do. Whatever the case, I know where I want to be. Since I created my ideals, I now do a yearly evaluation, which I call my Yearly Examination of Ideals.

I encourage you to write your own set of ideals to follow. I went into a lot of detail explaining my ideals, but you don’t have to do that. If you aren’t going to tell anyone your ideals, just keep it simple. Write a short sentence to yourself for each ideal of what you should be doing. Try to make sure they are based on clear metrics, so you can easily tell whether you are meeting an ideal or need more work on it. If you get into a habit of checking your progress on your ideals each year, I have no doubt that you will become a better person. If you want to get more serious about it, you can do this evaluation monthly. Even more serious would be keeping a log to track your progress over time. It’s up to you how far to go with it, but you will improve. With improvement, comes happiness. Over time, you may reach ideals you never thought possible.

Success in self-improvement can help you in other areas of life too. You can become more self-confident after making a hard change and sticking with it until you got the results you want. It can help you be more productive with your time. You won’t be wasting so much time watching TV, for example, when you can be working towards goals you desire in the bottom of your heart. Whatever happens, you won’t ever feel that working on personal improvement was a waste of time. Even if you found that some ideal was impossible, it wasn’t a failure. It gave you information about your limits. Working towards ideals can really give you purpose, and having purpose goes a long ways towards happiness. Along the way you will become a holier person, ready for heaven.

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