Q: I want to be a good Catholic. I want to make sure that I am right with God. What do I do or how do I live so I know I am doing what God wants?
All right! Now this is a great question for me to launch off on … brace yourself!
As a note, I obviously can’t pull off a perfect answer in the space required. Heck, I don’t think I could pull off a perfect answer, period. What I can do is give you some guiding principles to help you be holy.
The first thing we need to recognize is that, at its core, our faith is entirely about knowing, loving and following Jesus. Everything we do is in service to that goal. For the help we need to do this, we always have the grace of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. It is never about how strong our own willpower is, it is always about recognizing and living how dependent on God we are.
So … with that, here we go!
The first thing we must commit to is prayer. We simply cannot be a Christian if we are not praying. We pray personally, we pray communally. We pray. We even strive to “pray constantly,” in the words of St. Paul. (1 Thes 5:17) We pray for people when we walk by them. We pray when we hear sirens. We pray when we see someone who looks sad. We pray when we pass graveyards. We pray.
We pray for the situations in our life that cause us pain, confusion or worry. We pray for our family and our Church. We pray for our country and for those who are making decisions about it. When we are tempted to complain, we pray.
We pray because prayer is oxygen for our souls. We pray because doing so takes our eyes off of ourselves and focuses them on Jesus and on others. We pray because the more we spend time with God, the more we can become like him.
Prayer can be tough. For me, it's hard to focus most days. Some days, I’m distracted by my circumstances in life, sometimes it’s just because my head can be like a bag of cats. I’m learning over time to simply present myself to the Lord every morning, no matter what. I read my Scriptures and breviary and I sit and think about who God is and what he’s done. I ask his forgiveness for my sins, accept his mercy and go on for the day.
Because the origin of the human race is a community of love (the Trinity), and because our personal origin is a community of love (our parents), we will always have built into us a need for community. It's right at the core of us to crave community. As a result, our personal prayer needs to feed into our communal prayer.
We need to pray in community and faithfully receive the sacraments. This will give us the grace we need to continue a healthy, robust prayer life.
We need to be sure that Mass on Sunday is a non-negotiable element of our schedule. It is important to get to confession at least every other month. We need the community and the community needs us.
Communal prayer can be tough. People are distracting and our schedules are murderous at times. These seeming challenges are often the means by which God helps us grow: We can learn with God’s strength to pray anywhere and through any distraction. We show God and others our priorities when we put Sunday worship above all things.
As we establish a prayer life, we need to be sure that this prayer translates into action. As we read the Gospels, we will see that the call to serve the poor and most vulnerable is not an optional element of our faith, but the healthiest expression of it. It is too easy to pretend our voting or our taxes are somehow answering that call; this is a mistake many make. For us, so much more is needed.
As Christians we serve the poor, we give to those in need. We help those who help others. We start with a radical commitment to the unborn and we carry that through the whole life of the person. We strive not just to say “No!” to abortion, but to ensure that expectant mothers know we are there to help in any way we can. We are committed to a deep, abiding care for the migrant, the poor and the most vulnerable. We give our time, our finances and our work to helping others.
Finally, we commit to grow. We ask for the grace to allow that active prayer life and that service to the least among us to help us become more like Jesus every day.
We read books, listen to lectures or podcasts about our faith and we take the time to think about what we’ve read and heard. We recognize there is no plateau, no place where we are allowed to be content with who we are. Every day, we search our hearts for anything we have allowed in there that will harm our souls. We trust the leadership of Jesus through his Bride, the Church, to guide us in our moral decisions and in what we call right or wrong.
So, there we have it. I think this is a good, basic framework for anyone who wants to be who God has called them to be. May he bless our efforts to love him and our neighbor with all our heart, soul, mind and strength!
Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest. @Joeinblack