Dear Fallen-Away Catholics: 10 Things You Should Know About What You Left Behind

Dear Fallen-Away Catholics,

Perhaps you left the Church because you disagreed with some doctrine. Or maybe you just gradually stopped going to Mass. Or maybe it was some combination of the two. Either way, you’re gone, and we really miss you and wish you would come back.

I myself never really discovered Catholicism until my mid-teenage years. I was really a fallen-away Catholic right from the get-go because I come from a family of fallen-away Catholics. My attendance at Mass and CCD was very spotty growing up. Then, just when I was ready to completely leave the Church, I experienced a powerful conversion that changed my life through the grace of God.

I say this to highlight the fact that I have not always been a devout Catholic. In no way do I desire to talk down to you or judge you, because I know how you feel. I was there. With that out of the way, I present to you the top ten things I wish I had known about Catholicism earlier.

10. CCD doesn’t even scratch the surface. Remember those dull days sitting in a church basement while some catechist read boring stuff to you and you wanted to be doing literally anything else? Well, that’s not Catholicism. Oftentimes, parishioners are pressured into teaching CCD and they might not be super well-informed about the faith themselves. Further, the materials used in CCD don’t get to the juicy stuff. Our faith is not merely a moral system, which is what CCD often reduces it to. There’s so more to it. Dive in. For AP-level CCD, visit this site.

9. The secular world biases us. This happens subconsciously. How often do secular news sources take a certain slant on the goings-on in the Church? How often do teachers and even some textbooks reveal their own biases and opinions on matters regarding the Church? Pretty soon, you have this general sense that Catholicism is just plain wrong, but you can’t point to any super specific examples because everything happened so subconsciously. I know because that is precisely what had happened to me. Here’s a challenge: next time the Church is in the news, read a secular article about it from, say the New York Times, and then read an article about it from a Catholic news source, such as the Catholic News Agency. Note the differences in assumptions the articles make and the topics they choose to focus on, as well as general themes.

8. You are allowed to question Catholic doctrine. In no way do I intend to belittle Catholic doctrine. What I mean to say is that you can and should look into the doctrines. You’re smart and you want answers to why the Church teaches what she does. I didn’t realize the following for a long time: the Church actually has reasons for her teachings. Her teachings are not arbitrary. Explanations of Catholic doctrine are widely available all over the Internet. Another important corollary point here: it’s okay if you have trouble accepting a doctrine. You can’t just flip a switch and say, “Yes, I accept this wholeheartedly.” You could say that, but it might not be genuine. Just be open to the possibility that Catholic doctrine x is true. You deserve time to research, think, and pray about it. God gave you reasoning capacities and a conscience; you were made to seek Truth.

7. There are passionate Catholics out there. It seems like a lot of Catholics are not passionate about their faith. Beyond Mass, participation levels in parish life can be quite low. With this sort of atmosphere, one can start to wonder if there’s something wrong with Catholicism. I come from one of the most irreligious states in the country, and even I’ve been able to find passionate Catholics here. There are many Catholics who are truly on fire for their faith, and the impact Catholicism has had on their lives is incredible: you just have to look in the right places. Go to a retreat or a Bible study, or volunteer at your parish. You’ll find them.

6. You don’t want to make your spiritual journey alone. We live in the age of the “spiritual but not religious” movement. Those with this mindset reject organized religion and espouse a merely personal spirituality. Before I truly discovered Catholicism, I kind of had some sort of a spiritual life going on, and I didn’t think I needed an organization of some sort to help me achieve my spiritual goals. Then when I became an active part of my parish, I realized how much more progress I made when I was with others and under the guidance of the Church. When we want to make academic progress, we go to a college where we earn a degree by fulfilling the requirements of our institution and learning from those wiser than us. No one questions this. Likewise, when we want to make spiritual progress, we go to a church where we follow moral teachings to the best of our ability and learn from those wiser than us. Further, having Catholic friends will help you stay on the straight and narrow.

5. Priests are sinners too. Many Catholics left the Church because of the sex abuse scandals and the Church’s response to them. Indeed, these scandals were a dark point in the history of the Catholic Church, and my heart goes out to all the victims. Naturally, people wondered, “How can we be part of a church whose leaders are so corrupt?” The sins of the priests who committed these crimes certainly delegitimized Catholicism in the minds of many. I’d like to make an important point here: priests are sinners too. In no way does that excuse their behavior, but it make it clearer how Catholicism can still be legitimate even when certain clergy have made serious mistakes. The Church is run by humans, and humans mess up. We can’t look at our clergy as gods on earth because that’s not what they are. Priest confess their sins to their fellow priests, by the way. Pope Francis goes to Confession too. Also, a side note: according to this article from the Washington Post, about 4% of priests are sex offenders. Again, I’m not excusing any of their crimes, but also according to this article, this proportion is consistent with estimates of sex offenders in other similar fields and other religions. What I mean to say is, it’s inexcusable that sex abuse happens, but it’s not a problem limited to the Catholic clergy.

4. The Catholic Church, est. 33 AD. The Catholic Church is old. We have an extremely rich body of teachings that have been in the making for 2000 years. So many brilliant minds (St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!) have been refining Catholic teachings for many, many years. Catholicism is “the original,” so to speak. Here’s how it went down: Jesus started His Church in 33 AD (but he didn’t call it that–it was the group of all his followers). The Church flourished an grew under an unbroken line of popes, beginning with St. Peter, His disciple. Then in 1517, Martin Luther decided the Church had been getting it wrong for 1500 years. (His disagreements went beyond the corruption in the Church at the time–that’s something your high school history class doesn’t usually mention. He disagreed with many intellectual points as well.) With Martin Luther came the Reformation, which saw the creation of various Protestant denominations that changed doctrines that had been in place since the earliest days of the Church. Basically, if you want to experience Christ’s Church as close as it was to when He started it, you need to be Catholic. (For more insight into what the early Church was like, I recommend the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch (circa 110 AD), St. Justin the Martyr (circa 110-165 AD), and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 140-202 AD), just for starters.)

3. Catholicism is *really* intellectual. Sometimes religion is viewed as childish because it seems to require adherents to blindly follow rules. Hopefully it’s become evident from my earlier points that this is simply not the case with Catholicism. We have a vast body of 2000 years of writings that explain why we believe what we believe. Some of these writings get into some really hardcore philosophy. To see what I mean, try reading St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

2. Mass is really exciting when you know what’s going on. Before I truly discovered Catholicism, what I hated most about the Church was the Mass. It seemed so boring! What I was really lacking was proper context. I didn’t understand that the whole Mass is really centered around the miracle of the Eucharist. I didn’t understand that the Eucharist is a miracle. I had no context for any of the Scripture readings. I didn’t understand that the Mass is centuries old. It was kind of like walking into a movie for the last 5 minutes and trying to understand what was going on.

1. The Eucharist IS Jesus. This is, I would say, the mosimportant Catholic teaching. And somehow, I never learned this in CCD. (As I mentioned before, CCD totally does not scratch the surface.) As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist really is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. At communion, we are literally eating Jesus. Upon hearing this, this sounds repulsive and somewhat batty. How could we be eating Jesus if communion clearly looks like bread? And do we really want to eat Jesus? Doesn’t that sound like cannibalism? There is so much to say about the mystery of the Eucharist. And, as I’ve mentioned time and time again in this post, we have 2000 years of brilliant minds that have given us the resources to understand why we believe what we believe. Below I’ve compiled some of the resources on the Eucharist that helped me the most as I was learning about this sacred mystery.

How what looks like bread can actually be Jesus

    Summary: Using Aristotle’s metaphysical theories (which were in place long before the time of Christ), while the Eucharist has the accidents of bread and wine, their substance changes from bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ when the priest utters the words of consecration. Basically, the appearance of the bread and wine remains the same while what it actually is changes. 

The Biblical basis for the Eucharist

Summary: Jesus tells us to eat of His Body and Blood. When those listening to Him leave in response, He doesn’t stop them and say, “It was just a symbol!!” Instead, He repeats Himself three times. 

The Old Testament foreshadowing of the Eucharist

Summary: Jesus’s sacrifice mirrors the Passover sacrifice of the Old Testament. For Passover, Jews sacrifice a lamb and then eat it for the forgiveness of their sins. Likewise, Jesus sacrifices Himself for the forgiveness of our sins, and we eat Him, the new lamb. 

What the Church Fathers thought of the Eucharist

Summary: The early Church believed in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. 

Eucharistic Miracles

Summary: Sometimes, miraculously, the Eucharist visually turns into flesh and blood.

Anyway, it’s my hope that this post has sparked your interest in Catholicism. Catholicism has made such a massive difference in my life for the better; let it transform your life too.

Yours Truly,

A Young-Adult Catholic

Mass add-ons

One of the many wonderful features about Catholicism is the fact that our form of liturgical worship is the same wherever you go. You really realize how wonderful this is when you’re a college student going to Mass both at school and at home. In the stresses of college life and the in the turmoil that comes with not really living in one place ever, it’s really nice to have the consistency of the Mass.

At home, there are three parishes that are very close by; depending on Mass schedules, I go to one of these three churches when I’m home. At school, I go to Mass mostly at the Catholic Center on campus, but I’ve occasionally gone to the parish in town, which isn’t too far from campus. As consistent as the Mass is at all of these places, at school I’ve noticed some “Mass add-ons”–some extra gestures that parishioners make during Mass in an effort to enhance their worship, many of which I’ve adopted because I think they enhance my reverence. (Interesting note: my home parishes are diocesan, whereas my school parishes are all Dominican–I don’t know if these practices are somehow Dominican or if it’s just a coincidence.)

  • Sign of the Cross during the Penitential Rite – When the priest says “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life,” many people make the Sign of the Cross.
  • Sign of the Cross when Gospel is announced – I’ve noticed a couple of people who, after tracing crosses on their forehead, lips, and heart, will make the Sign of the Cross.
  • Striking your chest during the Penitential Rite – I’m mostly noticed this one among the daily Mass crowd. Basically, some people will strike their chest on “you take away the sins of the world” in the Penitential Rite. There’s one man at daily Mass who strikes his chest so hard that it makes an audible noise. That’s how I was first alerted to the fact that this was going on.
  • Bowing your head during consecration – The churchgoers at both my home parish and at my school parish usually bow their head at some point during the consecration of the Eucharist, but the timing, interestingly, varies. At home, people bow their heads when the bells are ringing. At school, people look at the Eucharist as the bells ring and then bow their heads after, as the priest is kneeling behind the altar.
  • Leaning over to pray during the presentation of the gifts – I once knew a priest who said that the presentation of the gifts was an ideal time to pray and make your own offerings to God — like maybe offering him your day or your classwork or whatever you have to offer him. I’m not sure if those who lean forward to pray at this point in Mass are making their own offerings to God or if they’re more generally praying; either way, it’s a thing.
  • Genuflecting before receiving the Eucharist – Most people bow before receiving communion, but I’ve noticed some people do a full out genuflect. Props. Your quads will be stronger than the rest of ours. (Haha; but seriously, that is super reverent and cool.)
  • Praying the rosary throughout Mass – Not really sure how this one goes. For me, anyway, that seems like too much to focus on at once, but apparently some people are capable of this and find it enriching.
  • Kissing your fingers after the Sign of the Cross – Some of the students at the Catholic Center of Hispanic origin do this. I looked it up online one time, and it signifies kissing the cross–those who do this make a small cross with their thumb and index finger and kiss that after making the Sign of the Cross.
  • Kneeling to pray after Mass – The majority of people at home do not do this, but a lot of people do this at school. After the Mass is over and the priest has exited, many people kneel back down to continue praying.
  • Not using the kneelers – Some people go sans kneelers, particularly during Lent.
  • Receiving communion on the tongue – Comparatively more people do this at my school parish than at my home parish.

I’ve found that several of these enhance my worship. Maybe you’ll like some of them too!

Have you observed other cool or interesting Mass add-ons that I’ve missed? Comment below!

Being Catholic…in Public School

I spent grades K-12 in a (*shudder*) public school. Jk, it wasn’t that awful. I now go to a private, secular college. So basically, I’ve always been on chilling out on this little island of Catholicism in a sea of rampant secularism. But the beach is sunny and the sand is warm. (Okay, I think I just took that metaphor too far. Anyway…)

Catholic students at secular schools face a unique set of obstacles. At the same time, they face a unique set of opportunities. In some ways, I think that being at a secular college is easier than being at a secular high school. In high school, your home life is very separate from your school life. In college, however, everything clashes together, and everything is simply life. In college, I do all my studying and socializing at the Catholic Center on campus, which is basically my home. All my close friends also do their studying and socializing at this home.

But high school. If you make it through that as a Catholic, you can make it through anything! (Although, it might depend on which college you go to.)

So, I present to you:

Ways to Stay Catholic, Public School Edition!

  • Find Catholic Friends. Community is so important for keeping you on the straight and narrow path. Especially in an environment where there may be many people who don’t believe what you believe. You might be able to find these people in your church’s youth group or in your Confirmation class. But I will admit, sometimes these people are hard to come by, depending on how secular your area is. It could also help to go on retreats for, say, your diocese. Even if you make friends who don’t go to your high school, they still may be helpful to you (and vice versa) in your spiritual journey.
  • Learn about Catholicism. When you’re faced with people who don’t believe what you believe, it’s good to know your stuff. Even if you don’t have any direct conversations about religion with atheists, agnostics, or Protestants, you may hear them talking, and you need to be able to justify your faith to yourself.
  • Evangelize. One of the unique opportunities of public school! Depending on your comfort level, try to have meaningful conversations with others about religion. They might be interested and start asking you questions. If you don’t know the answers, tell them you’ll get back to them after you research. It’s a win-win situation. You learn more about your faith…and they might end up Catholic some day!
  • Pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino before exams! He’s the best!
  • Make time for God. This is especially difficult in high school. You have homework, homework, and more homework. You have AP Exams. You have extracurricular activities. Much craziness. It’s helpful for you to commit to ways that you will make time for God each day. Once you get into a routine, it gets easier. One thing that’s relatively easy to do is pray to God every night before you go to bed, without fail. And of course, make sure to get to Mass every weekend. Another thing that could be cool would be going to daily Mass–I never did this in high school, but I do this in college. Sometimes daily Mass times don’t work for the high school schedule (it’s a pity, really). If you’re lucky, maybe a church nearby has an evening Mass. Even if you found time to get to Mass once a week besides Sunday, that would be super awesome. (PS–Daily Mass is significantly shorter than weekend Mass–somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes, approximately.) I don’t know why, but whenever I go to daily Mass, my day feels longer…which is wonderful because I need all the time I can get! God certainly rewards you for the time you give to Him!
  • Turn worthless-activity-time into prayer time. Recently, I was like, “I should start praying the Rosary every day.” (Not sure I’ll do that during the school year, but summer for sure.) So I’ve started praying it while I wash up at night. The Rosary takes about 15 minutes, and that’s about how long it takes me to wash up. So it’s perfect! And the great thing is, I wash up every night, so it becomes very natural to pray the Rosary every night. It could also be convenient to pray the Rosary on the bus ride to school. Additionally, last year at college, I realized that once I was done with my homework, I would waste a lot time messing around doing absolutely nothing, really, on my iPad. So I decided that time would be better spent praying or reading the Bible. (There was still some messing around on the iPad, but I devoted a reasonable amount of that time to prayer and religious reading.)
  • Go on retreats. Retreats can be really helpful for re-focusing your life on what’s important. And sometimes public school makes it hard to see what’s important because you get caught up in the day-to-day toil.
  • Try to see God in your school work. Know that your current place in life is as a student, and that it’s your duty to God to live out this calling he has bestowed you with at this time.
  • Go to Confession and/or Eucharistic Adoration. Confession just helps with everything, whether you’re a public school student, or anyone really. It just pours out all this grace you you. Ditto Eucharistic Adoration. Although, I must say that Eucharistic Adoration is the hardest thing to do when you’re busy because it feels (at face value) like you are doing nothing. (In reality, a whole lot is happening.) I will admit that I wasn’t good at getting to Eucharistic Adoration last year in college; that is something I will work on in the coming year.

There are a ton of suggestions here. As far as the prayer-type stuff goes, don’t feel like you have to do all of it. Take on something reasonable. Otherwise you might crash and burn after a couple of days. You’re better off doing a little bit every day rather than having the prayer life of the Pope for two days. (I know I’m exaggerating there, but you get the idea.) I guess it all depends on where you are in your prayer life right now. For me at that stage of life (I didn’t take ownership of my faith till I was 16), it was enough to pray every night, go to Mass every weekend, and casually Google things about Catholicism and watch videos about the faith online when I needed a study break.

Challenge yourself where you are. If your prayer life feels like a burden, you won’t want to pray…so pick something reasonable for you and your school workload.

Doing the types of things outlined above is hard when you’re a public school student because it seems like no one else is doing them. That’s probably the overarching issue for Catholics in public school. You start to wonder if you’re weird or something because you’re…well, different. Indeed, you are different, but it’s a good kind of different.

In conclusion, be a hipster like Pope Francis:

Hipster Pope Francis

(Image credit: http://www.elmiracatholicym.org/home/media/meme-of-the-day/hipsterpopefrancis)

[Shout out to Katie who gave me the idea for this post!]

Daily Mass (!!!!!)

Why must Masses be seven whole days apart!!? Come about Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, my soul is just aching the greatest prayer of all time! Know what I mean? You want that busy week broken up with some legit Jesus time. 

Well, welcome to #23419287413847893274018 on why the spiritual scene in college is so much more awesome than the spiritual scene in high school. 

The Catholic Center at my college holds daily Mass once a week. And it’s not at 8 AM. It’s in the evening, when adolescents can actually function (and don’t have classes). I’ve been going, and it’s fantastic! I highly recommend daily Mass to my fellow college students.

Reasons Daily Mass is Great

1. It allows you to see the true and simple beauty of the Mass. At my Catholic Center, anyway, daily Mass isn’t as elaborate as Sunday Mass: there’s no music; there aren’t too too many people (ten undergraduates at best). So, perhaps one would logically think that the Mass would lose its profundity. Not so. It’s still just as amazing, if not more amazing. 

2. It breaks up the stressed, fast-paced rhythm of college life. It’s like taking a breather. I always feel so much more at ease after daily Mass. It’s a much more fulfilling study break than drinking your stresses away. 

3. It puts life into perspective. So, you’ve got this HUGE test tomorrow that counts for, like, 25% of your grade! And then you go to Mass, and you see that this test isn’t the end-all. Sure, you still have to work hard and study, but eternal life is the true aim. 

4. It creates fellowship. Chances are, the other people who go to daily Mass are pretty similar to you. So you make some great friends that way!

Challenge Yourself Spiritually!

When we experience personal growth in any facet of life, that growth didn’t just come out of nowhere.

“I was passing the days solely sleeping, watching TV, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, you know, all the things that bring me personal comfort. Didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. And then as a result of this careful preparation, I discovered the meaning of life as I sat on my couch eating Doritos and watching ‘The Hangover,'”

SAID NO ONE EVER!

Growth is usually the result of some sort of challenge in our life. Let’s look at it from a non-religious angle:

When I was 11, my dad said we had to move 7 hours away! It was a really, really difficult time for me. In retrospect, I see that this change in my life helped me to be more adaptable. It also helped me to realize that the “unknown” isn’t that scary after all.

There are so many challenges that pop up in the lives of teens today. Examples include: moving, death of a loved one, divorce of parents, academics, drama with friends, bullying, body image, etc.
Usually these challenges ultimately lead to some sort of personal growth after some reflection.

So, if we want to advance in our spiritual lives, what are doing just staying in our comfort zones!? We need to challenge ourselves! And I think Catholicism offers so many excellent challenges that lead to spiritual growth.

Reconciliation. Is that comfortable? No– admitting sins isn’t terribly comfortable. But we grow so much when we realize God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We realize how much we need Him in our lives. Sounds like growth!

The Real Presence. Comfortable? No– you saw how so many people left Jesus in John 6 when He was basically like, “Guys, you gotta eat me if you want life in you. No, seriously. For the third time, I mean it.” But through receiving Christ in the Eucharist and resting in His presence at Eucharistic Adoration, we come to understand how amazing He is. Growth- check!

The Obligation to go to Mass every week and on days of Holy Obligation. Comfortable? Not 100% of the time. Some days we just don’t FEEL like going to Mass. But by going, we commit ourselves to God. We suppress our human desire to be lazy, realizing that God is more important. Yay growth!

Required days of fasting (Ash Wed and Good Fri for Catholics 18 and over) and abstinence (no meat on Fridays during Lent and on Ash Wed). Comfortable? No– Most people love eating. But by following what the Church has outlined for us, we understand that our carnal desires aren’t everything and that God is worth the suffering (even though it’s actually not TOO much suffering when you consider that people go hungry EVERY day of their lives in third world countries). Growth: now dat’s what I’m talkin’ about!

The list continues.

Sometimes things like fasting and the obligation to go to Mass get dismissed as unnecessary “works.”

James 2:17–
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

AMEN! You say it James!

You can have faith in Christ, but if you aren’t doing things to show it and further it…sounds like a pretty dead spiritual life with a paucity of personal growth on the side.

So go out there and challenge yourself this summer!!

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Reason #23457765432224 On Why Church Rocks

Whenever I walk into church, it’s the best feeling ever. Know what I mean?

During the week, particularly during the school year, I’m ultra busy and probably technically sleep-deprived. Every minute, there’s something I have to think about, something I have to do, somewhere I have to go.

And then there’s Mass on Saturday. (I rarely go on Sunday because I like to sleep late, but I go Sunday if I can’t make Saturday.) When I enter the church, I let all those worries and obligations of the world temporarily disappear. It’s such a calming and happy time. Being in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist certainly helps.

It’s such a fantastic opportunity to reflect on what you’ve done the past week, how God has been active in your life, and how you want to live your life!

It’s like a weekly retreat. I don’t know how I’d get through life without Mass.

–Oh wait.–

It’s true that I didn’t go to Mass regularly until I was 16 (I’m 18 now.) when I had my conversion experience.

And when I look at how my life has changed since going to Mass, I must say, the results are stunning:

Before: stressed, negative, complaining.

After: less stressed (it’s impossible to be stress-free as a high school student), positive, less trepidation regarding the unknown.

The biggest change was that I gained a better perspective on life. Before, if I had done poorly on a test, it would have been the end of the world. Now it’s more like, “God have given me this grade for a reason, such as to humble me.”

So, yeah. Mass rocks. Come to Mass.