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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There is No Luck but God

A very common phrase these days is, “Good luck!”. While it’s a nice, feel-good thing to say, this phrase doesn’t really fit with the Catholic faith. We don’t believe in luck, we believe in God. To us, many things will feel like luck because we are not able to see the complex cause and effect going on in the world and universe, but it’s not luck for God. Countless forces are working in the world both in the physical and spiritual realms. These forces affect people in the surrounding area. Those people in turn affect other people. A single action can have very large impact on the world. We just aren’t able to see that or understand it, but God is all knowing.

God knows all the forces at work in the world, both the inanimate forces like wind and the animate forces like people and angels. God also knows the entire past, present, and future of the universe beginning to end. With this vast knowledge, God knows the detailed workings of everything that has happened, is happening now, and will happen later. To illustrate, compare your human understand of the world with an ant’s understanding.

This ant is minding its own business foraging for food when a potato chip falls nearby. It is a feast compared to the small size of the ant. The ant has no idea how this potato chip got there. If the ant had human intelligence, it would call this “good luck”. To us humans though, we can see the cause and effect. A person was eating chips at a picnic on the lawn and happened to drop one where the ant was. We can see there is no luck here. It was just cause and effect. Just as we can see there was no luck in this event of the ant’s life, God can see there is no luck in the events of our human lives.

All the many events in our lives have some combination of causes. Some of those causes are from people, whom God gives free will to. Other causes come from the spiritual realm, such as angels and fallen angels. Rarely, God acts directly on the world through miracles. To God, everything is determinate though. He knows exactly what is going to happen and when. To us, it will seem like luck, but to God everything has a clear cause. Good luck is not really luck, but the blessings of God.

Another potential problem with “good luck” is its origin. This phrase was adopted from a time when people believed in the god of luck, many times associated with gambling or games of chance. People developed these stories to explain the things they didn’t understand about the world. However, we Catholics don’t believe in luck or superstition (CCC 2111). We put our trust in God. We understand we don’t have to know how everything works. God will teach was what we need to know and give us the blessings we need to make it to heaven. Therefore, when you want to wish someone “good luck”, use a phrase that affirms God:

  • “God bless you.”
  • “I’ll pray for you.”

These phrases are a good way to acknowledge that God is in charge. Everything that happens to us during our lives is willed by God directly (through his own actions) or indirectly (by him allowing it to happen), so there is no luck but what God chooses to happen in our lives. What God chooses are blessings. Yes, even the bad things that happen to us are meant by God to be blessings for us, probably for growth in the faith or becoming closer to God.

These phrases are also a great way to spread the faith to nonbelievers. Some people may be hostile to the faith and treat you badly for using these kinds of phrases, but remember the beatitude that it is a blessing to be persecuted in the name of Christ. It’s hard to see that as a blessing, but Jesus promised a great reward in heaven for enduring that suffering. If you must say something without a direct reference to religion, use this phrase:

  • “I hope everything works out.”

As Catholics, we put our hope in God, so this phrase is really saying we hope God will guide them in wherever they are going or whatever they are doing. The nonbeliever will simply understand this as a human hope not divine hope. The listener of this phrase hears what they want to hear. Still, I think it is best to evangelize whenever possible, so always try to use a phrase that reveals your belief in God. It could be a conversation starter that leads to conversion later. With God all things are possible.

Thank you for reading this article. If it has helped you in any way, please consider saying a prayer for me. I suffer greatly as our Lord did, though not in the same way. I am eternally grateful for any grace I receive through your prayers and await our time in heaven when God will reveal how you have helped me. Do not feel obligated to do this, but I really need help. You can make a real difference in my life.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

What is Good Prayer?

You can’t live a good, holy life without consulting God on a regular basis. Prayer is the primary way we receive guidance and support from God (CCC 2566, 2611), so it’s super important to have a good prayer life. If you don’t, you will slowly move in a different direction than God, possibly wandering far away from where God wants you. If your prayer life is not doing well, you will get tired of prayer and likely abandon it. If your prayer life is doing great, you will look forward to prayer everyday and can’t imagine life without it. This is achieved through good prayer.

Good prayer is peaceful, relaxed, and easy. There is no effort involved. When you have a stressful day, you look forward to your prayer to calm you down. Good prayer warms the heart. Whether dealing with depression or sorrow, you feel the love of God in your prayer. No matter how bad you feel when you start, you always feel better after. Good prayer is desirable. When you forget to pray or don’t have the time, you feel something missing in your life. You look forward to your prayer time every day after work. Good prayer is meaningful. You’re mind isn’t blank when you pray. It is full of hopes, dreams, love, sadness, anger, and a deep longing to be with God. Good prayer is revealing. During prayer you unveil the depths of your soul to God and God unveils part of his essence, an insight that leads to a deeper understanding of your Creator. Good prayer is such a wonderful gift from God, but how do you get there?

The keys to good prayer are trusting God, understanding how you relate to God, and having a dedicated time and place for prayer. You have to trust that God exists and is listening when you pray (CCC 2609-2610). For new believers, prayer many times feels empty or stale. It takes time and dedication to become sensitive to the presence of God. Some people will hear the voice of God, but this is extremely rare. Most people only have the “feeling” of God, and it’s usually only barely perceptible in prayer. The closer you get to God, the more sensitive you are to his presence. Very holy people feel God throughout the day in everything they do.

If you start a new prayer habit, do not give up if you don’t feel like the prayer is doing anything. Just keep praying. Eventually, you will start to feel something (CCC 2613). It probably won’t be every time you sit down to pray. Unfortunately, on earth God will always be distant. Most people will barely feel God even after years of prayer, but occasionally you will have a really intense prayer session. Those times you are blessed with a small taste of what heaven will be like, something to look forward to after your resurrection.

Trusting God is important to good prayer, but it’s also important to understand how to you relate to God. As Creator of all the living, God is the father of everyone. Just as a child learns from his or her father or asks him for help, we as adults learn from God and ask him for help (CCC 2564). Remember when you were growing up at home and how you interacted with your father. Hopefully, you had daily communication with your father. That is how your relationship should be with God in prayer (CCC 2565). If you’re father was missing or emotionally absent, God can fill in as the perfect father.

When you talk to God in prayer, it should be the same as how you talk to a best friend, close relative, or spouse. You should be comfortable saying anything on your mind and not worry about being made fun of or taken advantage of. You should speak from the heart, not from a script. When talking to a human you can congratulate them, look up to them, thank them, ask them for something, give them something, or talk about others with them. All of these ways of communicating work pretty much same with God through the prayers of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, offering, and intercession (CCC 2626-2643). The best part about prayer is that God is perfect. Even people we really trust on earth can sometimes treat us badly, but God is perfectly good. He will never do anything to harm us, so we can always look to prayer for a deep conversation with the Father we love.

Lastly, you need to get away from others in a quiet place for good prayer to happen (CCC 2602). Similar to how kids spend times with their parents as a group and one-on-one, every Catholic needs some alone time with God. This is where those deepest prayers can happen. To prevent other people from barging in on your time with God, you will probably have to dedicate certain times of the day for prayer. This might be in the morning before others get up or at night after everyone has gone to bed. Maybe the home is too chaotic, so you have to go to a nearby park, church, or some other peaceful place away from others. Whatever you choose, you have to get away from distractions to be able to pray deeply.

Good prayer is something that has to be worked on, but the reward is invaluable to Catholic life. Going from a life alone to a life with God is night and day. You will go from a shallow and dull life to a life full of meaning and purpose. It’s all through continued good prayer. I am a cradle Catholic who has prayed for decades, but I still continue to improve my prayer every year. The reward for this effort has been a deeper and deeper relationship with God as the years go by. It is just so comforting and pleasing throughout the day being with God. Some days I suffer a lot or people treat me badly, but it just doesn’t bother me much because I am with God. You, too, can have this peace and support if you work on good prayer a little every day.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared