Judgment and Evangelization

I’m not precisely sure what my goal is for this post. I haven’t fully reached any conclusions about the issues I’m going to raise, hut I think this topic is worth thinking about: how people perceive us and how that impacts our evangelization efforts.

For a long time, I never gave a second thought to how non-Catholics (who knew I was Catholic) viewed me. I was aware of the prejudices some people have against Catholicism, but the people I was dealing with are reasonable people: they wouldn’t have those prejudices, right?

Upon further reflection, I think many do have these prejudices, but they are either too polite to verbalize anything or don’t really realize that they’re making assumptions. Honestly, “assumptions” is a much better word for my purposes than “prejudices.” The term “prejudices” implies some sort of malicious intent, which often isn’t the case. People are very subtly fed lies about the Catholic Church by the media and the secular world at large. (I think this is also a reason why many people in my age group are turned away from the Church; we are exposed to a great deal of secular media all the time, and if you aren’t well-versed in your faith, it’s easy to be fooled by lies, often unintentionally told, about the Church.)

What do I think is one of the biggest problems plaguing innocent Catholics who are trying to evangelize? The perception that Catholicism is somehow inherently judgmental. We certainly can learn from this perception; after all, I don’t think that perceptions come from nowhere. Some Catholics are blatantly judgmental. Many of us can think or act judgmentally without knowing it. Also, the mere act of striving for sainthood might give you a “holier-than-thou” image.

We want people to know we’re Catholic, right, so that we can witness to them? But the minute you say you’re Catholic, people start subconsciously assuming things. In the past, I used to basically be like, “Hi, my name is <my name here> and I’m Catholic!” because I am so excited about my faith. Bad idea, guys. Let them know you’re normal first. Make sure they find out for themselves what type of person you are before you say you’re Catholic. Then, when they find out you’re Catholic, it might challenge the perceptions they have about our faith.

 

Oftentimes people whom I know swear will clean up their language around me. Guys, it’s really not necessary; it’s sweet of you, but I can handle it. I’ve even had one person say to me, “I tend to cuss a lot. I know you’re Catholic; will you be offended if I cuss around you?” I honestly don’t understand these situations well. Do people think I’ll judge them if they swear? Do people think I’m some goodie-two-shoes whom they can’t relate to? Either way, for the sake of evangelization, I’d rather be perceived as (and authentically be) non-judgmental and relatable. Amusingly, some people will accidentally say something scandalous (not really that scandalous) around me, and then they’ll look over to me first in a kind of panicked way. I try my best to just laugh it off. If I’m silent with regards to what they said, I automatically seem judgmental. If it were super scandalous and harmful, it would make sense to say something, but usually it isn’t that bad.

I feel like I’ve been doing something right lately because people swear around me now and talk about being drunk. Seriously, this is a good sign! I know there’s some irony in that, but it shows that people don’t think I’m going to judge them.

To an extent, we can’t really do anything about how people perceive us based on our Catholic identity. But here’s what I think we can do:

  1. We can pray for humility so that we are authentically not as judgmental. We can also pray to be self-aware enough to realize when we are being judgmental. Good for the soul as well as evangelization.
  2. We can always give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that the more we realize how broken we are and the more we experience our own hard times, the more we realize how much people’s circumstances impact their actions.
  3. We can genuinely love others even if we disagree with their lifestyle choices.

In summary, don’t be this guy:

Matthew 7:3

Matthew 7:3

picture credit: http://www.newsrealblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/eyelog1.jpg

 

 

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When Academics Become God

It seems like, for a lot of people, religion is a source of self-discipline. And it is for me too, but I possessed a great deal of self-discipline before I ever had my conversion experience at the age of 16. And I’m not saying that to “toot my own horn,” so to speak. Even though we usually think of self-discipline as a good thing, it’s only good in moderation. And before I started taking my faith seriously, my self-discipline as it related to academics was…well, way overboard.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s good to study hard. Doing well in school allows you to learn about God’s creation and the magnificence of it all. It also gives you a means by which to use your God-given talents to contribute to society. But here’s what I think the thing to remember is: academics is a means, not an end. That can be a particularly hard thing for people such as myself to understand.

When you have the natural tendency to work ridiculously hard (i.e. spending 7+ hours on homework per night, studying till 1 AM, resisting the urge to join the neighbors having a good time outside your window, etc.), it’s really easy to start to, quite frankly, worship academics. Now, I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing to spend a lot of time on homework or stay up late doing it or stay inside when you have business to attend to. In fact, my studying practices in these regards are still very much the same. The big difference, I think, is how you view it all– there’s a big difference between worshipping academics and serving God via academics.

Before my conversion experience towards the end of my sophomore year in high school, I studied for — now, this will sound weird — no particular purpose that I was conscious of. My parents had always placed a great emphasis on school, so I was just kind of responding to that, maybe? But it’s not like I was thinking that. I probably also liked how it felt to get good grades– perhaps I was addicted to the pride that comes with getting good grades in school? Whatever my reasons were, I was hooked for reasons I was unaware of. By the end of that sophomore year, I started to have a slight existential crisis: “Why am I doing this?”; “Why do I continue on studying even when it isn’t fun?”; “What purpose does this all serve?”

— ENTER GOD —

When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, something changed within me. For the first time in my life I was on fire for God, and I wanted everyone else to know about the Good News, and I became a practicing Catholic. (Praise the Holy Spirit.) (Although there was one definitive moment when the trajectory of my life changed, conversion doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, it is still happening; it is a lifelong process.)

My conversion drastically changed my views regarding academics. In 10th grade, academics were for me. In fact, school was basically what gave my life meaning. Now (as a rising college sophomore) I see my pursuing of academics as my current vocation as a student, as utilizing the particular skill set God gave me, and as a means by which to eventually serve my neighbor. In 10th grade, I saw church-related activities (including Mass) as interfering with my studying. Now I go to Mass approximately 4-6 times a week during the school year.

Maybe skeptics would view these changes in me as some overstressed kid trying to escape the pressure she puts on herself. Not so. It’s not like I used God as some excuse to stop working hard. I still study for many hours a day. I still stay up late to study– even until 3 AM or 4 AM sometimes. I still sit myself down and work even when there are other things I’d rather be doing. My sense of purpose in my study habits is what changed– it’s for God, not me. And that is truly what makes all the difference.

Another breed of skeptics may think it’s crazy to ever put God before school. And I can relate to that line of thinking since that’s totally where I was 3 years ago. But I promise you: making God the purpose for your hard work and making time to worship Him will bear many fruits in your studies (and more importantly, in your life in general). Seriously. And it’s way better for your soul. Plus, let’s face it: eternity is way more important than this life.

So, is self-discipline bad? No! Not in itself! It allows you to be dedicated in serving God. But all good things can become perverted. Eve provides us with a good example of this. Satan told her that eating the forbidden fruit would allow her to become more like God. God is good, right? Eve wanted to be good like God. In trying to become “good,” Eve caused the Fall of humanity. Likewise, in pursuing self-discipline (or any other seemingly good quality) to an excess, you can pervert it and be the cause of your own personal Fall.

Doing well in school is certainly not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s very good! But know why you strive to do well. Make your academic successes a means for you to serve God, not an end for yourself. If you have a rather academically “intense” personality like me, harness that and make it a virtue, not a vice.

 

A Rant on Semantics

“What religion are you?” someone asks me.

“Catholic,” I say.

My fellow Catholics, how do you usually answer this question?

It’s kind of a no-win situation for us. Here’s what I mean:

You say “Catholic.”
In the mind of the listener: Oh. That’s not Christian! OR Oh. Is that Christian? OR Oh. She’s one of THOSE. (Insert false stereotype here)

You say, “Christian.”
In the mind of the listener: She’s one of those evangelicals/nondenominationals

You say, “Catholic Christian.”
In the mind of the listener: Does that imply some Catholics aren’t Christian? OR That’s an oxymoron!

All three of these answers are accurate for us to say. I would be inclined to say that the last, “Catholic Christian,” is the most accurate and complete. I hate to leave Christ out of my description of what my religion is! We just have to hope that the listener recognizes that Catholicism and Christianity are one in the same.

I’m interested in hearing how you answer the question, “What religion are you?” Catholics, what do you say? Protestants, do you identify yourself as Christian, Protestant, or by your specific denomination?

Real Presence? Real Deal!

As Catholics, we sometimes take the Eucharist for granted. We take part in this incredible sacrament at least once a week, which sometimes makes us forget how special it is.

Many of our Protestant sisters and brothers don’t believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. They believe that Jesus gives us bread and wine to symbolically show his Sacrifice. But we Catholics believe that the Eucharist is literally, I repeat LITERALLY, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t really want to get into apologetics in this post, but if you want proof, check out John 6, the writings of the early church fathers and saints, metaphysics (explains how something can look like one thing but be another), and Eucharistic miracles.

Somehow, after all those years of religious ed, I never learned about the Real Presence. And I was paying attention in class too! So either A) I missed class on ALL the days they talked about it (unlikely), B) The teacher quickly mentioned it but didn’t make to big of a deal about it (possible), or C) the teacher didn’t mention it at all (also possible).

So then I have my Confirmation, God changes something in me, and all of the sudden I’m all Catholic and stuff. (I wasn’t really too Catholic before that–see my conversion story for more details. You kind find it on the menu on the left.) At that point I started researching Catholicism…and there was the Real Presence staring me in the face. And I had trouble accepting it for a while. After all, it IS pretty mind-boggling. After a lot of research, I started to accept it more. Then learning about Eucharistic miracles helped me. Prayer also helped. The biggest cause for my belief in the Real Presence was undoubtedly the faith in the Church I was granted during my Confirmation. I had my conversion experience in the Catholic Church. My life changed for the better because of a Catholic Sacrament. The Catholic Church teaches Truth, Real Presence included.

Then I started noticing life experiences that have lead me to believe further.

For example, why does if feel so special when you walk into a Catholic church, even when no one is sitting in the pews? Even when it’s dark in there? Shouldn’t it just be an empty room that elicits no feeling? No! Because Jesus is there in the tabernacle!

Why do I think to myself come Thursday or Friday, “Boy, I could really go for Mass about now!”

Why do I feel “off” if I go to Sunday Mass instead of my usual Saturday vigil? Why does seven days with out the Eucharist seem so much longer than six?

Why is sitting in Adoration for two hours not boring? Why is it so incredibly peaceful? Plain-old bread can’t do that.

Next time the Eucharistic minister or priest or deacon says, “The Body of Christ,” remember what you are consuming.

But don’t forget to say “Amen.” 🙂

Vice Presidential Debates

Today during my study hall I watched last night’s vice presidential debates on YouTube.

In my opinion, Ryan won. He acted with more dignity than Biden. I had never watched any Biden debates before, and I found him to be kind of fiery and worked up. He took a lot of cheap shots. For example, after Ryan had spoken at one point, Biden sarcastically says, “AMAZING.” And Biden kept laughing at Ryan. During the closing statements, Ryan thanked Biden, but Biden didn’t thank Ryan. In general, I was unimpressed by the way Biden conducted himself.

I thought Ryan conducted himself more maturely than Biden, even though Biden is older. Once, when Biden kept interrupting him, Ryan took a step back from the situation and said that their debate would be far more useful to the American people if they stopped interrupting each other. And as Biden spoke, he wasn’t laughing at him.

I’m not writing this post simply for politics. Back to Catholicism. Did you know both the VP candidates are Catholic? The moderator, Martha Raddatz, brought this point up before she asked the candidates the role religion plays in their politics. Here’s a YouTube clip from the debate:

Alright, time for a little ranting. If you believe abortion is killing, how can you NOT want to advocate for laws against it if you’re in a position of political power? If you truly believe abortion is wrong, you’d have stances more like Ryan’s.

You can have your own opinions, but I kind of wish Ryan was running for PRESIDENT. Maybe someday…

Why Catholicism is So Great for Teens

One of the great things about Catholicism is that it’s for everyone. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. It’s appealed to all generations for the past 2000 years!

Here are some of the particular reasons Catholicism works so well for teens:

  • It’s a smart religion. What do I mean by this? I mean that Catholic theology (2000 years in the making) is well thought out.  We teens like substance, and Catholicism has substance. We don’t want things to be dumbed down. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we aren’t smart enough to understand complexities of the truth.
  • It’s above politics. We teens are young and independent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling tied down by any one particular political wing. And neither does Catholicism; the Catholic Church gives opinions on issues, not parties. The Church thinks for herself.
  • It has Confession. Just like all people, we teens sometimes do stupid things. Through the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, we can repent and be forgiven.
  • It’s universal. We young people move around a lot. Maybe our family moves. Maybe we go to college. Maybe we land a job somewhere away from home. With all this moving, how ever can we find new churches similar enough to the old one? Well, have no fear, Catholicism is here! Catholic is Catholic is Catholic everywhere you go. Mass is the same. The beliefs are the same. You’re at home in any Catholic church, whether it be in the U.S. or France or the Philippines or China or anywhere!
  • It has Saturday Vigil Mass. Getting up early isn’t my forte, so Sunday morning would be painful. But hey, you can get the exact same Mass as Sunday on Saturday evening.
  • It has a sense of belonging. We all are looking for an identity, teens especially. In the Catholic Church, you’re part of something big: 2000 years, 1.2 billion followers today worldwide. I guess you could call it a community.