After the Mass had ended at Seek, everyone started praying the Saint Michael the Archangel prayer and the Salve Regina. As I looked around, it seemed like I was the only person in that crowd of about 10,000 that hadn’t even heard of these prayers, let alone knew them by heart. As I knelt quietly trying to focus on the words, insecurity crept in. A thought rose in my mind: I am a bad Catholic.
We all know Satan is a liar, and we know the more we strive to live like Christ, the more Satan will try to attack us. Consequently, one of the more dangerous lies Satan tells us is that we are a bad Catholic. These lies can come from external sources in the form of society telling us we must act a certain way. They can also come from within, and these lies can fuel self-doubt.
Maybe I’m the only insecure 20-something-year-old who suspects that she is a “bad Catholic,” but I suspect that is not the case so I want to address some of the setbacks that may trigger that “bad Catholic” alert.
*Note: a book recommendation linked in this post is an affiliate link. For a full disclosure on affiliate links, please click here.*
You are not a bad Catholic if…
…you don’t know a prayer.
There are hundreds of thousands of prayers out there, and it is completely unrealistic for you to know each one by heart. While there are definitely prayers that you should know by heart, don’t get frustrated with yourself because it seems like you’re the only one who doesn’t know the prayer. First of all, you probably aren’t the only one who doesn’t know it (I’m the catechist who is uncomfortably mumbling her way through the Angel of God prayer hoping my students don’t notice I already forgot the prayer we talked about a month ago). Second of all, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter. Prayer is about connecting to God; it isn’t about having the perfect words every single time. Do your best to stay reverent and focused on God.
…you don’t know every single thing about the Catholic faith.
The Catholic Church is full of beautiful spiritual practices, teachings and history. Even if you devoted your entire life to the study of the faith, it is still unlikely that you would be able to capture the full richness of 2,000 years of Truth. A lot of people talk about our faith by saying it is a puddle so shallow a mouse could wade in it and deep enough an elephant can drown in it. Others say it is like trying to drink from a firehouse. That isn’t to say that we should be complacent with ignorance; it means that we should look at missing knowledge as an opportunity to grow closer to Christ by learning about more about Him and His Church.
…you’re the only one sitting uncomfortably in a sea of people doing praise hands during a worship service.
Everyone expresses emotions a different way, and this also applies to expressions of faith. Just because you aren’t crying or raising your hands doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing a profoundly intimate connection with Christ in that moment. Trying to express what you’re experiencing in a way that feels unnatural to you can actually turn you inwards focusing on how you’re expressing your faith rather than being properly oriented towards Christ in a way that feels natural and reverent to you.
…you don’t feel anything during Mass or adoration or prayer.
One of the challenges we face as humans is the fact that we are both body and soul. God has provided us with the sacraments to help us feed the soul through physical experiences, but the reality is that we aren’t always going to feel something remarkable or earth-shattering every moment we spend with God. Yes, those moments are absolutely beautiful, and it is OK to desire feeling “something,” but if that is the reason we are praying or attending Mass or going to adoration, we have lost sight of the true purpose: God. These things are not made to make us feel warm and fuzzy, although they certainly comfort us; they are there to honor and praise God.
We also must remember that just because we don’t feel anything doesn’t mean our prayer isn’t doing anything. Think about communication with someone you care about. I’m not fawning over my husband every time he talks about the work he does as an analyst, and he probably gets pretty bored when I talk about making paper, but we know listening to each other talk about their day and just spending time together is important for building a healthy relationship. In a similar way, our time with God is important in strengthening and building our relationship with Him.
…you don’t like praying a certain way.
I will expand on this in a later post, but prayer is communication. God knows we all communicate in different ways, and there are a number of different forms of prayer we can do that are all valid. The only exception is the Holy Mass. Even if you think Mass is the most boring thing ever and you think your priest sucks and you hate the sound of all the crying babies and you’d rather sleep in, you need to get your butt in the pew and give that time to God. The Mass is so rich in Biblical truths, powerful symbolism, and is the highest form of Christian prayer. If you are struggling with the Mass, I highly recommend seeking to understand it better. There are a lot of great resources out there about the Mass in books, through talks, or in talking to people who know the Mass well. My husband, a Catholic convert, recommends Faith Basics: Discovering the “Awe” of the Mass as a starting point.
I am not trying to dismiss the gravity of sin, but we can’t let it shut us down. When we sin, we should repent, find healing, and move forward. We cannot have a full understanding of Christianity if we ignore that our sins were paid for on the cross. One of the beautiful things I have heard about confession was when St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wanted St. Claude de la Colombiere to be her spiritual director. Jesus had been coming to her, and St. Claude de la Colombiere was (rightly) skeptical, so he told her that if Jesus came to speak to her again, she should ask Him what mortal sin she confessed the last time she went to confession. When Jesus came to her, she asked Him that question. Jesus responded by telling her that He had forgotten. If Christ, in his infinite wisdom, doesn’t hold on to a confessed mortal sin, why should we?
All these things being said, we should still evaluate if we are serving Christ as He calls us to. It is good to look over your day not just in sins, but also how you are serving God. My point is that we shouldn’t fall into despair or believe Satan when he tells us how bad and unforgivable we are; we should instead take a realistic approach, talk to God, and try to grow the best we can. Our identity is daughters and sons of God. That identity doesn’t depend on our imperfections or successes; it is wholly dependent on God’s love for us, and fortunately, that amazing love is unconditional.