being catholic sucks

Bear with me.

I go to a fairly small Catholic liberal arts college. I chose to go to a Catholic school because I wanted to get a foundation of my subject from the perspective of my faith before I went to grad school and had my worldview challenged (more than it already has been; let’s be clear, most of my professors subscribe much more to the liberal arts approach of leaving their own opinions outside of the classroom and helping us come to the truth ourselves—I guess the fundamentally Catholic part of that is thinking there is a final truth to get to). The other reason I chose my particular school is that it seemed to embody the Catholic ideal of being in the world, but not of the world.I thought the students there would grapple with reality and not put themselves in an idealistic Catholic bubble, while still maintaining the principles of our faith and spurring themselves on to always be better people.

For my non-Catholic readers, my brief disclaimer here is that while I was raised Catholic, I have individually grappled with my understanding of Life, the Universe, and Everything with God and without, and come to the conclusion that it all makes a lot more sense if there is a God. I find Catholicism beautiful and logically consistent with itself and with the world around me; Catholicism is fundamentally a religion that derives from the principle that God is love. Everything proceeds from that point, every minor teaching. On my better days, I am enamored of that idea. My understanding of Catholicism as true is what leads me to bother with all of this.

I feel that we’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well, so I’m going to divulge some confessional-level stuff here: I haven’t had an active prayer life (i.e. praying on days that aren’t Sunday with regularity) since probably my senior year of high school. So it’s been a while. My connection with my faith is totally intellectual; there isn’t much emotional there. When I pray, I don’t feel anything, there’s no tangible intrinsic reward to making good choices, Mass is kind of boring unless the homily is good, and even then you’ve got another half hour to sit through. But I keep going and I keep trying because I know I’m supposed to and I know at some point even if I don’t see it right away, I’ll realize the totality of my life is better for having a “relationship with God,” a phrase we like to bandy about in my circles.

I never manage to improve, though, and I’m always struggling to meet the bare minimum. The final straw came this past Sunday when I went to Mass and spent the whole time feeling guilty and emotionally drained. For what felt like the billionth Sunday in a row, I knelt in the pews and said, “Hi, it’s me again, we haven’t talked since last Sunday and I’m not sure why I’m here.” I don’t feel like I belong in the Catholic church because the only day I act spiritually like a Catholic is on Sunday. 6/7 days of the week, I do my best to follow the moral tenets of the Church, but there isn’t anything spiritual involved. After Mass, I found the priest and ended up choking out that “I don’t belong in the Church,” and explained that I’m a bad Catholic. I don’t pray, I sin a lot, I generally have a desire to be holy and a saint but I have no idea at all what that’s supposed to look like on me. I don’t know how to pray and I don’t know how to be holy. The priest responded tentatively, “Okay?” It took me a long time to convince him what the actual problem was, and when I finally realized, I also realized that he didn’t really think it was a problem at all. Sure, I should be praying more, but it’s not some soul-shattering revelation that it’s hard for me.

I went to confession a few weeks ago and I said, “I don’t think God loves me.” This is a big problem if you’re a Catholic, just so you know, despair is Up There in terms of sin. The priest asked me why and I went through all my failures and my lack of relationship with God and how I don’t pray and how I don’t belong or deserve to be in Mass on Sundays and he responded, “Okay, you’re a bad Catholic. Join the club. You don’t like praying? You’re not special.” That sounds really rude, but to me it was breathtaking.

Everyone is a bad Catholic on some level. To be Catholic means, to plagiarize from Peter Kreeft, to strive to be little Christs. I’m going to level with you guys: none of us are little Christs. No sir. Nope. Were you born without sin, perfect and blameless? I don’t care how much you like praise and worship music, you’re not a little Christ. You aren’t. I know you know this, but I’m getting to the point here. The key word in the idea of being Catholic is striving; we are all going to die trying, because if you could reach perfection on Earth there would be no reason for Christ to have died and there would be no point of Heaven. This is all basic, Sunday school stuff but then why (why why why why) can we not just admit that we all suck at being Catholic?

How come nobody can admit Catholicism is hard? I reached the point of despair and an emotional breakdown because I thought I was alone in my imperfection. I will wager a guess that among the hundreds of Catholic students at my school, I am not the only one who thinks Mass is boring. Who doesn’t want to pray. Who counts the decades until the rosary is over (only two more decades, phew). I’m sorry, but I’m not in the minority when I say that spending an hour in adoration is a struggle that I don’t get anything out of. All of these things are supposed to be spiritually enriching and awesome, and I’m sure they are, somewhere beyond my capacity to understand at this point. But could we all please stop pretending that doing all these little Catholic things is the Most Fun Ever?

When I say being Catholic is hard, I don’t mean in the, “the world will hate you, you will be persecuted, whatever whatever whatever” way. I mean in the, “I have to get up and go to Mass and I’d honestly rather sleep” way. I mean that responding to the truth of God’s reality, the demands of acknowledging such a Being, in our own personal lives kind of sucks. And it’s supposed to suck. But to look at the people I go to school with–even me!–you would think it’s the most natural thing in the world. I tell my friends I don’t know how to pray and they say, “Act like Jesus is your best friend. How would you talk to your best friend?” And I’m like, “Okay so the difference here is that I can actually see my best friend and they can talk to me. I’m not just shouting into a void.” The point of faith is that God is some intangible thing that we can’t quite grasp. I say Mass is boring and someone pipes up with the fact that some saint said that when angels see the Eucharist they pass out from sheer joy. Do you know why? Because angels are privy to the full reality of God. Are you an angel? I am certainly not. I am a little, loser nose-picking human who really struggles with the idea that my world centers around a God I cannot see or sense, and that

sucks.

But we all carry along, praying after Mass for the requisite five to ten minutes because that’s what you do, that’s what everyone does. That’s the social pressure. Do you know what I do when I’m on my knees after Mass? I stare at the wall and wait until my friends start getting up so I know it’s okay to get up. I try to pray but I run out of material, meanwhile the people I’m with are apparently St. Teresa of Avila and going into ecstasies next to me. But because I kneel for a while, people think I’m deep in prayer. Someone forwarded an email to me once in which I was described as “an outstanding Catholic leader on campus.” What? Me? What do you know of my spiritual life? I’m an outstanding buttface sinner on campus, that’s what I am, and I want people to do what I tell them. My external image is the Mass-going devotee, but one of my professors asked how I lived my faith every day and I said, “I’m nice to people?” and he said, “You’re not nice to me.”

I don’t doubt that many of the students at my school have a very deep spiritual life that is much more than just the externals, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us are just external show and really having a hard time of it, but are too afraid to admit it. And the people who do have a deep spiritual life surely didn’t get there easily and surely still struggle with it.

The fact that we all pretend that being Catholic comes as easily as breathing is alienating and exclusionary to people like me and the non-Catholics on campus. Acting like we have Such a Great Spiritual Life because we post pictures of a monstrance on instagram or wax poetic about how “in my morning prayer God said to me…” Did He? Does everyone else have apparitions of Christ and I somehow missed getting on the subscription list so that it happens to me? Am I the only one who struggles, really? Am I the only one who thinks praise and worship music is actually bad and uninspiring, and doesn’t go to Mass for fun? Can we just please own it?

But since nobody will, here I am. You aren’t alone if Catholicism is a struggle for you. Am I just lukewarm? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I love Christ and being Catholic is core to my identity, but I don’t fit into the prescribed models of holiness that have been set up for me by my peers. We all have an individual route to holiness, so why does everyone’s at school look the same? Can we just admit to ourselves that none of us really know what we’re doing?

You’re a bad Catholic. Join the club. I am not the founding member, but I’ll be the most outspoken. Let’s stop putting up the front of devout perfection and total satisfaction and immediate intrinsic joy in response to any spiritual activity. I’m doing my best but my best isn’t very good. Let’s all quit pretending it’s a super fun-filled carnival ride. If your Catholicism is easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. I know I’m doing it wrong, but at least I’ll admit it.

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45 thoughts on “being catholic sucks

  1. I hear you; we all hear you, and no, you’re not ‘special’…which frankly is a bit of a relief. If Mother Teresa & St John of the Cross can keep the faith when they feel nothing, but they continued to seek and do what they knew to be God’s will, then they succeeded. Being a Christian (not just a Catholic) is hard in a world full of distractions and unrealistic perceptions of the holiest of Christians/Catholic-again, it’s HARD. I’m comforted that I’m in the company of great saints who loved God but weren’t sure how they were supposed to feel and often felt despondent when their faith was what defined them:

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/mother-teresas-long-dark-night.html

    Hold on to God-as time goes on, there is only Him who makes sense…wish everyone could see that ‘rock’.

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    1. I am not a Catholic, but a Christian and it seems to me you are trying to do this yourself. Jesus did it all for you. Do you believe that? Well, that’s the bottom line. You do not need to do anything more -just “love the Lord with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself “. Of course, we all fail at that over and over, but we are not perfect and are not expected to be perfect. We can have faith that Jesus’ sacrifice saves us in spite of ourselves. Praise God for that and for His unconditional love for you.

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      1. Thanks for your comment! I think my struggle comes in that if we accept Christ then we have to change the way we live in response. I really have a hard time doing what He asks me to do or to even make the space or have the willingness to let Him do it for me. I want to cultivate the life of Christ within myself, but it does not come easily to me. I appreciate what you have to say and I will keep it in mind!

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  2. This was a really good read! I’m an atheist myself, but out of curiosity if all Catholics are bad at being Catholic, do you feel there’s some kind of Catholic paragon and ideal which is put forward that’s ultimately too unrealistic to fully achieve? In other words, do you feel the compulsive attitude to enjoy every part of being Catholic and suppressing one’s difficulties with its practice is something taught?

    Also do you think this difficulty comes with being Catholic in the modern world? Obviously being Catholic in the medieval and early modern periods had their problems (religious persecution sticks out pretty badly) but maybe they didn’t find it as difficult/strenuous because it was so ingrained in their culture?

    Hopefully this all sounds logical and constructive – loving the blog!

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    1. It’s actually sort of the point that the Catholic ideal is unrealistic to fully achieve because that ideal is Christ, who’s not just man but also God. So we do our best to do what’s right according to Christ and the Church’s teachings, but the point is that because we’re fallen and imperfect, we’re never going to reach that on earth. That’s why reconciliation/confession is so fundamental to Catholicism; you can always be forgiven and start over. The idea is once you get to Heaven (fingers crossed), you’ll be purified and totally holy to be in the presence of God. But if we were perfect to start with, there would have been no reason for Christ to sacrifice Himself to take away our sins.

      In terms of, like, what an everyday Catholic should look like (in case I missed the point of your initial question, which I may have, I wasn’t sure so I figured I’d cover both bases), I think in some sense there are certain “models” of what being Catholic or being holy are supposed to look like that sort of just happen without malicious intent? It’s difficult because obviously we hold up the saints as models, but very many of them are monks or nuns, or from very different time periods (obviously) and it’s hard to relate to them, especially since we emphasize their virtues and minimize their flaws. Again, I think there’s a reason for that (we don’t want to be praising the fact that they sinned), but at the same time it is really helpful to think that they weren’t perfect and that’s easy to forget. So it is taught in some way, like, the saints are the models of holiness! But then we forget to emphasize that holiness looks different one everyone and it’s not a one-size-fits-all, do x, y, and z and then you’re holy type thing. But that’s the easiest thing to boil it down to and it’s really difficult to say “be holy but I can’t tell you how,” even though that’s kind of the reality of it. There are the guidelines but the rest is you.

      As to your question about being Catholic in the modern world, I think every period has had its own challenges for Catholics. Honestly, I almost think it’s easier if you’re Catholic and not surrounded by Catholics 100% of the time (like I am at university), because it feels much more organic to pursue holiness in the way you’re meant to as an individual. Because I’m in a Catholic society, the social pressures are to look and act a certain way that also has to do with our faith, so people end up conforming to certain ‘types’ of Catholic behavior. There’s a false notion that if you don’t dress and act like everyone else, you’re not really a Catholic. So when you don’t fit in with the other Catholics you feel like you don’t fit into the Church, which doesn’t necessarily correlate. Does that make sense? I think it has a lot to do with peer pressure in a religious culture, which sounds weird but is very real.

      I’m really grateful you liked the post, I hope it was insightful in some way! 🙂

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      1. The Catholic ideal is not to be Christ… To be like Christ yes, but in a way as to strive to be better more than to become a certain entity. . If your idea of being Catholic is to try and become a mini Christ, then you will always feel like crap because you will always fall short. Your aim should be to continually struggle. It is in striving to struggle and carry your crosses with *charity* that you come close to Christ because you are uniting yourself to His suffering.

        Seeing Catholicism in the eyes of a perfectionist can be the most toxic thing.

        Striving to have unity of life is what will ultimately help you.

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      2. Your post was quite funny. And yes, I can get how being Catholic can suck. One thing I always take some solace in though is that if you read enough between the lines I think you can see that even the Saints sucked at it at various points. I think God gives us that perspective as a way to help. Think about St. Peter. Founder of the Church. Also the one berated for having too little faith, getting yelled at for tempting Christ to avoid his cross (it has to be a bad day when the Messiah refers to you as ‘Satan’), and then serially denying Christ. Look at St. Joseph. When I pray the Joyous mysteries I’m always half amused at the finding in the temple. Can you imagine someone in the caravan: ‘Say, Joseph… I haven’t seen the REDEEMER OF ALL MANKIND AROUND, have you? No? YOU LOST THE MESSIAH!?!?’.

        I’m also a Dad now. I get it. He was probably helping to feed the oxen, fix that cart wheel, and stop his two cousins from arguing and wrecking dinner.

        As to being in a 100% Catholic environment, I think I was luckier than you. I went K-12 Catholic School, my great aunts were nuns, and there’s a Priest or two sprinkled in the family. But while I think all of them were honestly running the race, as it were, they were all very human. The priests at my high school ran from the martinet to the comically liberal; the teetotaler to the one who enjoyed his bourbon and cigars while watching football. My relatives would all say the Rosary, but differently; some sounding like auctioneers while some soun. I guess my point is that it gave me more space to fit in.

        I think that Christ looks at us, and is pleased that we use his Church and strive for him. I also think he’s a little amused at how wrapped up in ourselves we can get. For myself, I used to spend a ton of time worrying that my prayers weren’t just right; or that I wasn’t being attentive enough at mass. Then I realized it was all part of the human condition. Some of us do it better than others; and that’s okay so long as we are using the Sacraments and doing it to the best of our ability. For myself, I firmly 100% believe in the Church. Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura don’t resonate. I’m a Christian to the core. All that said… I think that so long as we use the Church he gave us, while we may struggle, its okay. And it doesn’t hurt to be amused at ourselves at how much we suck.

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      3. Hi Hannah, I loved your blog. I used to feel the same way you do; from staring at the walls while others pray. to finding Mass boring, to believing I was to be perfect like Christ which meant struggle, suffer on earth and get get rewarded in Heaven with perfection then. My journey has taught me there is so much more and it’s worth continuing your search, despite how difficult it is. Yes, it is difficult. For example, the sacrament of confession is a healing sacrament. Not to allow me to start over so I can fail again, but allow my wounds and brokenness to be healed. It’s divine medicine that needs to be taken again and again. Padre Pio said something along the lines of: People think sinning is breaking a rule, when it it breaking a heart. Try to think of sin as something that blocks God’s love, that God wants to remove but won’t without our permission. I would also really study what perfection means. We are to be like little Christ’s but we can’t by ourselves. And that is the Good News. We can only become like Christ by uniting ourselves to him, turning over our wounds, vices, but also giving him our joys uniting everything with him. The best way we can do this is, is during Mass. I recommend finding a priest or visiting Catholic Answers to really understand the sacrifice of the Mass. Ascension Press also has good info on what’s really going on during the Mass.
        I didnt attend a Catholic college or school, but I can relate to seeing people being “good” Catholics by looking like they have it all together. I am the exact opposite. We have had illness, death of our son and a daughter with a teen pregnancy. By all definitions a very “bad” Catholic family. But I would argue we are a great Catholic family because we have grown in love, patience, kindness(more Christlike). Through our weakness his glory shines because nothing in this world could have healed us and kept us together than Jesus. We are more in love than ever. PS: I’m the only Catholic in my family.
        I am very excited for you. God is calling you into a deeper relationship. He wants you to mature from an elementary underst anding of the sacraments and faith. Don’t make the mistake I made, by leaving the Church, trying other denominations. I ended up back home in the end. Keep searching, asking, opening your heart, and your mind to go to deeper in understanding of the mysteries of the boundless love and mercy of God. I am 52 and wish I had spent time in my younger years searching and calling out for help. You are right, dying to self and picking up your cross daily is tough but keep at it. You can find the peace that surpasses all understanding by keeping your eyes on Christ and delving deeper into the riches of the Church. And keep telling people how hard it is, so they can let down their guard and show their woundness. I will be praying for you.

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      4. I live in an environment dominated by non catholics and i feel pressure to adjust or accommodate my own beliefs all the time. It would be easier to live in a catholic dominated society, but maybe im here for a reason unknown to me yet.

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  3. I can’t say that I have ever felt like being Catholic sucks, but I can see that we are all on different paths. I believe some actually do hear the call of God in their life and are able to cultivate a close relationship, while some of us just wish it could be that easy, etc. As a previous comment mentioned, we can go through dry times in our life…as Mother Theresa did and many other Saints. Those times are a real test of faith. As a youth, I would say that being Catholic was definitely a routine for me, but that routine stuck. You know…Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. In our military wonderings it was always a home away from home where we would make friends and help others and it mostly felt good…although my spiritual life outside of Mass didn’t look like much (praying before meals and sometimes at bedtime, etc). There are many ways out there to cultivate a prayer life. Some work for some people and not for others. You have to find what works for you. I attended World Youth Day in Spain and on the trip I read secular books that my teens were reading at the time and still in my 40’s found no interest in religious readings. Shortly after that, during a trial in my life, my interest in spiritual readings went through the roof (and I considered how funny it was that I was reading about vampires during my WYD travels). I couldn’t read books fast enough and was searching the internet for more information. After many years of being Catholic, I finally had a desire to know more. It has only made my faith stronger, it has permeated every day of my life, including a daily rosary for several years. Mass is a joy, although it wasn’t always. I think it depends partly on how we look at it. One teen asked me at that World Youth Day if we had to go to Mass within the hour (before eating something) and I replied that you get to go to Mass. I hope that most Catholics don’t look at Mass as an obligation, but as a privilege since we do believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. I think of Mass as a time to go and praise God for all the things that are good in my life and to talk to him about an trouble in my life. We all have some of both. I can truly say that I am thankful for the difficulties in my life because without them I might have remained more distant from my Lord and Savior. He can truly use the bad in our lives for good if we let Him. We are truly fallen creatures and, as you said, we will not reach Christian perfection in this life, but we can strive for it. Religious reading, daily prayer, searching out other Christians and sharing experiences with them (serving a community meal, bible studies, youth groups, etc) allow us all to find our path. We all have different experiences and different personalities and what works for one will not work for another. As you have said, we are all sinners. Fortunately for us as Catholics we have the grace of the sacraments and can reflect on how we have failed and promise, with God’s love and mercy, to do better. I think it is good to consider that, as Christians, we can be more open with each other about our failings and not try to act perfect :). If we share our struggles we are likely to find others that are struggling along with us.

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  4. Hey lady. Do you think you can’t be what Christ wants you to be? Before anyone ever knew you He formed you in your mother’s womb exactly the way He wants you to be. He loves you for being Hannah at every age and stage of your life. I know you are not what you imagine perfection to be but the key is that Christ is Love. Period. You don’t care for praise and worship stuff so much but I wish you could let the message wash over you until you feel free from your own introspection and condemnation. “Grace Wins. Every. Time.” Being a Saint does not mean matching other people in their dress and their devotions. Becoming a saint means becoming fully you. Maybe lay off the high lofty theologians for a while and come down to where the rest of us work out the daily difficulties of our lives. I doesn’t make you a bad Catholic. It puts the punch in “The struggle is real.” 😉 Get the Laudate app and listen to the podcast from Presentation Ministries. Just 10-15 min a day to dig in to the daily mass readings and chew over them for yourself. Not for anyone else.
    Thank you for your brutal honesty. I hope it is part of the release you need to embrace yourself and your little piece of the beautiful puzzle that is life.
    Loving you for who you are Hannah, hang in there.

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  5. Since you’re such an avid reader, and you mentioned that religion has become an intellectual exercise, can I recommend a book? “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. Here are a few quotes for your preview:

    “My Sunday classes did much to help us memorize commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him …..”

    “I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into habits, he will prevent his heart from engaging God. I was into habit. I grew up going to church, so I got used to hearing about God. He was like Uncle Harry or Aunt Sally except we didn’t have pictures.”

    “If you don’t love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easy to serve. I didn’t love God because I didn’t know God.”

    “still, I knew, because of my own feelings, there was something wrong with me, and I knew it wasn’t only me. I knew it was everybody. It was like a bacteria or a cancer or a trance. It wasn’t on the skin; it was in the soul. It showed itself in loneliness, lust, anger, jealousy, and depression …… We were like gasoline engines running on diesel.”

    The book goes to share how it’s very possible and even essential to develop a personal relationship with God. Or else, you’re right, Catholicism is just following rules, habits, meeting expectations but not spiritually fulfilling or a real encounter with a living, personal God.

    Keeping you in my prayers! I truly believe God has wonderful plans for you and is shaking you up from your long nap. 😊 So read, listen to podcasts and keep on keeping on. Keep calm and carry on.

    (I like Fr. John Riccardo’s podcasts ….. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr.-john-riccardos-podcasts/id161405928?mt=2&i=372282353)

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  6. This is Dr. M writing from Lesbos where I’m working at a refugee camp.. you probably know this. Holiness boils down to sucking a little less at being human. I have a book for you that I used to pray through a dry spell that lasted, well three years and counting. I know God loves you because he has inspired me to love you, even when you’re not that loveable and I feel I have no love left. And you better know I do…

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  7. This sentence had me dying laughing!! “… I stare at the wall and wait until my friends start getting up so I know it’s okay to get up. I try to pray but I run out of material, meanwhile the people I’m with are apparently St. Teresa of Avila and going into ecstasies next to me.”

    Dude! I thought I was alone in this. Yeah, I do run out of material… & then, I’ll start looking around like… “damn! can I experience this too?”

    I could not agree with you more. Being a Catholic IS hard & I love every moment of it!

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    1. This is how I feel after the Latin mass. So I say a brief thank you to God, tell Him I am sorry I cannot hold still and be inside any longer, ask Him to please come with me, and then I split. I just leave. If others think ill of you for it- ha! That is good for your humility.

      Most of life for most of us is like this. One thing to remember is that if you did get nice holy feelings while praying, those are just spiritual candy. God may give them to you sometime if He feels you need them, but they are not Himself. So, embrace the suck. God is in the suck.

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  8. Hannah: your blog post got commented on over here: http://aleteia.org/2016/08/01/being-catholic-doesnt-suck/

    I figured I might as well offer some words of possible encouragement. Maybe some of this will be helpful. It got a little long-winded, bit I hope you’ll forgive – I’m a huge history buff. 🙂

    1. Actual saints who got visions usually also got in problems because of that. When St Theresa of Avila started having visions, one of her confessors was convinced she was deluded by the devil and explicitly told her to make an obscene gesture whenever she saw the vision. Saint Faustina Kowalska was accused of being hysterical and told, point blank by one of the superiors in the convent, that “Lord Jesus associates in this way only with the saints and not with sinful souls like you” [Diary entry: 29]

    2. Various people who were later canonized had serious problems with their prayer life. Say, St. Theresa of Avila (again) – she had long spells when she didn’t almost pray at all (despite being in a convent!). To quote her: “I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer.”

    3. Quite a number of saints didn’t have the sort of “relationship with Jesus” that people seem to imagine when they say you should talk to Christ as if he was your buddy and then everything will be hunky-dory all the way to eternity. Another example I just happen to remember: St. Francis Loyola was tempted to suicide because of “scrupulosity” (obsessive disbelief in his sins being forgiven and his confessions being valid). That didn’t stop him from being canonized later, although – judging from his writings – it was no fun at all, while it lasted.

    4. Various “good” saints got in trouble with either the Church authorities (eg. St. Padre Pio was temporarily suspended form hearing confessions and celebrating mass), other “pious” Catholics (st. Francis de Sales was criticized for approving of jokes and humor, because the fashionable religiosity of his time happened to be all dour and sad), or the general public opinion.

    5. And then you have all the “bad” saints – people, whose life you shouldn’t try to emulate, strictly speaking. Their do exhibit things wroth emulating, but their lives as a whole aren’t “good”. Starting with “The Good Thief”, a.k.a. the man crucified next to Jesus, through Saint Paul (who prosecuted early Christians), all the way to my personal favourite: the drug addicted St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. He was a Chinese layman, living in the late 19th century, who got hooked on opium and was consistently denied Communion for the last 30 years of his life (he couldn’t kick the habit by force of will, treatments for drug addiction weren’t around and according to contemporary Church teaching his addiction was a public scandal, so he wasn’t going to be admitted to Communion just because he WANTED to stop taking drugs, if no results were visible). He happens to be canonized, because he was martyred in the Boxer Rebellion – he refused to renounce Christianity and was killed by Chinese nationalists. But the thirty years when he was quite probably the worst Catholic around must’ve been difficult.

    I suspect over-accentuating the “exemplary” parts of saints’ lives, mystical experiences and whatnot, while downplaying everything else comes, at least in part, from the same place that training montages in movies come from: training is boring, hard and painful. Like actual life. But most people prefer to get to the fancy, exciting bits as fast as they can – so they remember St. Theresa of Avila having ecstatic visions but not earlier years wasted in a convent without being spiritual, Saint Faustina Kowalska is all the hype now but was basically considered either mentally ill or “slow” by many people when she was alive, St. Francis Loyola is the great founder of the Jesuits and not a man ravaged by neurotic despair over his own sinfulness right after making a good confession.

    Oh, and as an aside about most saints being monks, nuns and such – that’s a side effect of the formal canonization process. If you want to canonize someone for anything else than martyrdom, there needs to be proof that they’ve lived a life that – at some point – became exemplary. On top of that, organizing the process costs money. Most of the time laymen who weren’t very noteworthy (they weren’t kings, queens etc,) didn’t leave sufficient documented proof behind or didn’t leave behind a community that would be interested in pursuing a formal canonization process. So they became part of the anonymous collective of “All Saints”.

    Personally, when I read about a saint I don’t try to empathize with their life as a whole. I look for, and sometimes try to emulate, particular characteristics. So, for example, St Francis de Sales’ way of arguing is something I like. The rest of his life, I can barely empathize with, because I’m not a 16th century bishop. So I just keep that one bit.

    God bless you (no, seriously)

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  9. If you’re fitting in your not doing it right. If you’re happy all the time you’re not doing it right. If you’re ecstatic all the time you’re definitely not doing it right or you’re on the good drug’s.

    Young lady, if I may address you as such, none of us are great Catholics. I was a tremendous sinner in my younger years. Nowadays I go to weekly confession and I receive Communion at every opportunity. I think if nothing else that this keeps me from going from bad to worse. I’m currently living with my pop and helping him out. His remarks can be rather caustic at times. Rather than flip the f… out as I’ve done in the past and as all my siblings have done (two have cut him from their lives) I just pause and offer it to God. It’s a chiseling away of all that is not of him. He promises to feed us with His body and blood. He never promised us cake and mead. 😉 So I would encourage you to keep seeking after Him. I have more respect for someone who admits their difficulties frankly than. People who put on airs. 😉

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  10. I was going to point you to my answer, which is here: http://aleteia.org/2016/08/01/being-catholic-doesnt-suck/

    A great article on the subject of how Catholics at colleges like yours can fall into the trap of “white knuckling” is here (I have it bookmarked on my smartphone so I can call it up at any time):

    http://www.ilsussidiario.net/mobile/English-Spoken-Here/Culture-Religion-Science/2012/11/6/YEAR-OF-FAITH-There-is-something-that-comes-before-What-faith-is-not-1-/335510/

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  11. Hang in there. What you describe sounds a lot like how I felt about my faith when I was going to Reformed/Evangelical high school and college. I was attracted to Catholicism right after college largely because I DIDN’T have to worry about how I felt. As long as I was obedient to the Church (and 99% of what the Church said made good sense to me intellectually, so surrendering to the 1% wasn’t too hard) and received the sacraments, I could have confidence in reaching Heaven sooner or later, regardless of feelings. Once you finish college and break out of your particular “Catholic bubble,” I think you’ll find much less pressure to conform your spirituality to others.

    Ironically enough, nearly 20 years later I have become someone who has deeply mystical experiences and who loves daily Mass and meditation on the rosary more than anything in the world. But it took A LOT of “cross” to get to that “resurrection.” Not so much the white-knuckle “cross” of making myself do what didn’t interest me and wasn’t absolutely required–I probably could count on my two hands the number of times I said a full rosary in my first 15 years of being a Catholic. (I’m skeptical that forcing yourself to regularly pray in ways that don’t make you feel closer to God leads to anything but Pharisaicism.) But gut-wrenching life experience, everything I thought I had and took pride in being crushed, feeling utterly alone without a person in the world who loved me and all my family commitments were pure misery, throw myself into God’s hands saying “I have nothing, I can control nothing, I don’t know what love even is, You’re the only hope I have left, have mercy on me.” And being stuck in that state for YEARS until, almost imperceptibly at first, He started healing the brokenness and rebuilding my life in a glorified state, little piece by piece.

    Standing where I do now, part of me aches for anyone who doesn’t experience the overwhelming love and peace and joy that I do in prayer and Mass. But then I remember how many years of pain it took to get there, and think the folks who go through that purification outside of time are blessed too, just in a different way. But I am skeptical that a lot of college students truly experience it, because how much purifying fire have most of them been through yet, especially the ones who were raised in idyllic Catholic communities? My guess is a lot of your friends are faking it, but you don’t need to. Just obey and frequent the sacraments. The rest will come when it comes.

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  12. If it weren’t for praying badly, I’d hardly pray at all – and I think about 99% of prayer falls into that category. I also think God is OK with that, since we are asked to try, not to succeed.

    Many of the above comments are wonderful – all I would add, from deep personal experience, is be aware of the temptation involved here: if you try to be good at all, you will be a target. Temptation will almost always push you in the direction in which you are already leaning – you are sincere enough to want to do well and so you review your efforts to do well, and find them inadequate (join the club!). From there, you will be tempted to think you’re not doing anything at all. Then, as your sense of failure grows, you’ll be tempted (as you were or are) to despair.

    Laugh. No really, laugh – You going to Sunday Mass? Hurray! You often find it boring? Means your brain is on. Nothing to pray about, or easily distracted? As everybody here has said, join the club! Your friends are all holier that you? Riiiiight. Have a laugh, accept that you need some savin’ (like everybody!) and just do SOMETHING directed toward God, fall on your face, get up, laugh it off, do it again, over and over, till the day you die. Make sure you keep the sacraments and some occasional penance in there, and you’ll do fine. Don’t wallow, don’t fixate. Do something good, trust God (even if it’s only an intellectual exercise) and laugh about it.

    Because this is all pretty funny. You’re pretty funny. I’m pretty funny. And Old Scratch *hates* being laughed at.

    Thus ends the old guy tips.

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  13. Hello.

    I think u are the perfect catholic. Maybe even on ur way sainthood.

    I have always thought the point of our Faith, our goal on earth, is to want and long to be with Him in heaven.

    When reading ur words i get the felling of deep longing. U are searching… waiting… looking around corners and under tables.

    Now just learn the virtue of patience.

    I have always felt that part of our journey was to continue on even tho we never find. U know… Faith.

    I have begun reading the lives of saints and i have found one saint that felt like God had left her and abandoned her. But still she went on to give her life to our Lord and King. She searched with patience. Mother T.

    I have found another, St Bridget of sweden and have read her writting. In it Jesus reveals to her that its our own sins, at times that keep Him out.

    That taught me that maybe the path of being Carholic is the search…the patience (with myself rather than God)…and trying to better myself even tho i suck. And hoping that one day i will be in heaven with Him or at best will arrive in purcitory ( spelled wrong i think) where He can fix what i could not.

    Anyway…thanks for listening. and as u can tell i am no scholar . God Speed on ur journey.

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  14. I actually feel you on this in a lot of different ways. I’m a 20 year old Catholic college student Enlgish major who identifies with this. I too thought I was alone in my imperfection. But then I learned about concupisence– the effects of original sin, and I realized that we’re bad at praying because sin makes it so. Such a huge comfort to me— none of us REALLY know how to pray as we ought. So great. I too have cried before my spiritual director, heartbroken over my lack of faith and interior life— but he assured me, that this struggle means I’m trying, and it is a good struggle.
    So, my friend, keep struggling. Keep striving. After all, love is not just a feeling. Love is sacrifice. Love is doing things for your beloved— and conquering your will in order to pray even when you don’t feel like it. Hang in there, keep trying, but know that you don’t have to do it alone. Ask Mary for help. She can carry us when we are too tired to continue. There is a steep staircase to perfection, but as St. Therese said, an elevator of love. I would suggest reading “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” by Fr. Michael Gaitley, it describes the struggles you face. But know you are not alone. If Catholicism was easy, it sure has heck would not make so many awesome saints.

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  15. Hannah, thank you so much! Your honesty is refreshing, and as all the comments prove, you are not alone. I am not Catholic, but I have been a Christian since Jr. High. I have a bachelors degree from a Bible college and a master’s degree in New Testament studies, and I am currently trying to complete a doctor of ministry degree in spiritual formation. I have served in ministry with a church for almost twenty years. All that to say this: I am fifty years old, and I still struggle with “feeling it.” Prayer has never come easy for me, and that “personal relationship with Jesus” thing? Yeah, that’s just not helpful for me. My sins, failures and boatload of shortcomings weigh me down so much at times. I am amazed at (envious of?) some people, who seem to have this thing down. Not me. But I believe. I have faith. I trust the Lord and his word, and even if (when) I have my doubts, my prayer is that of the father in the NT: “I believe; help my unbelief.” Our faith–yours and mine–looks different than that of those folks, but it is no less real. In fact, in my better moments, I believe it is probably more real. Thank you again for your boldness, and your encouragement. Your words are wise. I’ll pray for you, Hannah. You pray for me. Deal?

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  16. I went to Catholic University in DC, which I suppose could be classified as a small Catholic liberal arts college, but felt pretty big to me. There was definitely a crowd of fist-bumpers who seemed to read Aquinas on the beach and rock out to praise and worship tunes. I was very spiritual and religious in high school, but when I got to CUA and saw that crowd, something changed and I entered the stage you’re in now- bad Catholic, goes to church and knows it’s true but just can’t seem to digest the kool-aid, if that makes sense. It wasn’t until my life went back to normal after graduation that I really started to come back. Not that you asked for advice here, but I would totally encourage you to keep praying. Keep asking Jesus to make himself real, to make his love more real to you. He will listen. ❤

    And PS- Have you read Amoris Laetitia? Pope Francis makes a point about how too much fist-bumping and church cliquishness can really do more harm than good but putting people off and making people feel like they're not holy enough to belong here. It's pretty good.

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  17. I think it’s important to remember that most of the things you are talking about are disciplines, which means we get better and better at them over a long period of time. Since you’re in college, you really do have a lifetime ahead of you to gain in discipline. No one gives an infant a hard time when they don’t know how to walk. Not that you’re an infant, of course. I just mean I think God probably looks on all of us with the same sort of parental compassion, because we are all his children in the process of growing up. And definitely don’t give yourself a hard time for being low on ecstatic/mystical experiences. They are gifts from God that often come to us when we least expect them, and are hardly something we can elicit or schedule into our day. Be patient with yourself, and with God. 🙂

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  18. It”s a lot like exercise. At first, you may not notice results. We all need stick-to-it-iveness and to push back “resistance” which tries to stop us from doing the things we should ~ like getting out of bed in the morning! And also, love takes time to grow. If we look at from a relationship perspective, we know that time must be spent regularly for the relationship to stay strong.

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  19. You write well and I feel your frustration. Catholicism is not meant for weinies…it is hard. I struggle as you do but the victory is in trying every moment to do more or better. E en when I don’t feel like it.

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  20. Of course being Catholic sucks, and for the very reason you state – because we suck at it. That, ironically is the whole point of the Church. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We fail. We don’t appreciate the faith, the Church, the Mass, Confession, the other sacraments and the sacramentals. We lapse and we don’t understand why. That is why it is important. Don’t be discouraged by the saints. Many of them were even worse than we are.

    “…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

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  21. Hi Hannah – boy can I relate to this as I spent my time at my small liberal arts Catholic College in Baltimore struggling with the fact that I was faking a lot of what I thought you were supposed to do in order to be a good catholic and ultimately feeling guilty because I could match up with what I perceived to be what a good catholic should like like — the cool statues of saints that were all around me and the super pious looking guys in robes.

    I desperately wanted to find meaning in the eucharest and the pomp and circumstance that was going on but ultimately just did not get it and spent the time checking out girls, looking at stained glass or singing songs in my head. I prayed only when I was desperate.

    It took years for me to learn that the focus of my faith life was completely wrong and as a result it made sense that I was bored silly — I was focused on what I did or did not do or how good or bad I felt, when the the only focus that matters is Jesus. It is just not about our works!

    Jesus addresses this desire on our part to do stuff adn make it about our piousness versus what He wants us to do in John 6 where the disciples want to know what great things they should do:

    8 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

    29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

    He does not say be real good or pray real hard or build an orphanage, all good btw, He says believe on Jesus. When you follow Jesus as Lord unfiltered, everything flows from that.

    I wanted to be like the saints and tried to make my conduct be like theirs, but failed to understand that it is only through reliance on God and what He has already done in us that anything good is possible. If we do something to be good, to check boxes of fanciness it is worthless to God.

    But the Bible says that because Jesus died for us and we are believers we are already saints — Bible verses abound where simple messy easily distracted believers like us are called saints and beloved and God’s children. It also says that we are already citizens of Heaven, Jesus stamped our passports and we are already seated with Jesus in the heavenlies. He did everything, not broken, messy, fallen me and our joy comes from the fact that He already did everything, not in accomplishments.

    It is like when God called Gideon to do His will, Gideon was found in the middle of the night hiding from the bad guys and was terrified to be called — he called himself the lowest man of the lowest family of teh lowest tribe of all of Israel and he was being truthful. It was only God who did great things through Gideon. Gideon himself was still a yahoo.

    Or Peter — Paul has to rebuke Peter in Antioch likely in front of the entire church body in Antioch, the first great gentile church, for being a hypocrit and damaging the church. Peter is still a work in process years after the resurrection because he is flesh. Only Jesus is Lord.

    And yet despite our open and obvious failings, we humans really fail something fierce, due to Jesus paying for us on the Cross, Peter and Paul and doubting Thomas and you and I are seen as faultless by God, as beloved sons and daughters.

    It is this deal that provides the joy that should be in every follower of Jesus’ life regardless of the circumstances and we cannot add anything to it. When we try to add to it what are we saying to Jesus but your sacrifice was not enough, you are not a good enough savior.

    If you think faith is about suffering and sucking it up and dogged obedience than you are seriously missing out on something wonderful. And yes, I would agree that a life of sucky faith is miserable, but so would Jesus. Jesus says:

    Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

    If you are not experiencing His light yoke and His easy burden then the question is whether you have actually come to HIM and not tradition. Jesus is joy and love and hope and peace, man’s tradition is not.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” — GK Chesterton.

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  23. Being catholic sucks even more when you realize that youre becoming a conservative catholic and the rest of your family is liberal catholic.
    A year ago mass used to suck.
    A year ago confession used to suck.
    A year ago belief in Mary as important mother was very distant to me.
    But then i started looking at Marian miracles, eucharistic miracles, power of sacraments…-and very very very slowly that praying in church sucked only 98% not 100% any more, same for confession and others things. Now i see that without the support of other catholics, like my husband…i would still be searching for spiritual support in the protestant churches.
    I agree with others, time to get better with catholic disciplines is like sacrifice…Most of my doubts about continuing to be catholic dont come from God. I guarantee your doubts about peity come from God either.
    Its a long road, but as you know our bliss will only come when we join our father, the Lord and Christ his Son. Mary will also be there and in hard times i do see her as a Mother i turn to.
    Fortunately the polish catholic church has many groups that i can join to be part of the catholic community more than only on Sundays. I hope you find catholic support in your environment that help you grow… And if tgats not possible… Theres always the catholic readers on your blog.

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  24. Hi Hannah, I am new to blogging and just came across your post. My favorite way to share my faith is self deprecating humor, so you spoke to me! My own personal faith life transformed from head knowledge and duty into heart knowledge and joy after I attended a Christ renews his parish retreat. (Crhp) This retreat is offered all over the country and was begun in the 1970s. It is something like a Kairos for adults. One book that also helped catapult my heart knowledge of Jesus is Fr Michael Gaitley’s Consoling the Heart of Jesus. He is so approachable, funny and self deprecating too. He is also a gift to humanity. I was afraid of the book, thinking it would be too heavy, but once I delved in, it was perfectly readable and really spoke to me, a “little” soul who is clearly too weak to climb the rough staircase of perfection. You can YouTube Fr Gaitley to see one of his talks, he is great! Finally, I read an exceedingly boring book called Living the Mass (Fr Grassi) that in simple language explains step by step what we are actually doing in the mass and that helped me begin to enjoy it immensely. Just some suggestions, I’m sure you are busy enough with school than to have time for more reading! But everyone is busy ( : We are all life-long learners, and I will pray that you, too, discover your very own unique and incomparable path to friendship with JC.

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  25. I’m a self proclaimed “Bad Christian” who was led to believe in Christ by another ” bad Christian”. For years, I was an extreme good boy. Eventually I tired of religious activity and trying to look good externally, but with a bad heart. I think psychologists would call that cognitive dissonance. Any who, I gave up and dove into the dark side of the force. After years of trying to be bad enough, I got really tired. I was soooo tired. “Will anyone love me for me?” I literally met a homeless person one night after a gig. ( I’m a drummer) I was trying to quit smoking, but of course ended up with a new pack and in the alley where he was bedded down for the night. We had a real, give and take conversation. He somehow explained Jesus to me allegorically. There’s a story about the religious leaders scolding Jesus for not washing according to ceremonial laws. he said to them, (roughly), “You guys are blind because you wash the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you’re full of greed and self-indulgence;wash the inside of the cup and dish, and the outside will also be clean.” This nailed my problem; I was a pharisee. I got my approval from outside, so it was always up for grabs. He showed how G-d loves us, right now, with all flaws, just because. That was irresistible! Still is!
    if you’re tired, especially of religious disciplines, I would take a break. As a parent, I would hate for my kid to give me father’s day card, or do the dishes because they’re forced. That wouldn’t feel like love, or a gift. It would feel like duty. Maybe G-d feels the same way?

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  26. I think that 99% of our faith life may very well be us reaching out and into practices and liturgies that don’t seem to have a direct reward. But the beatific vision – God saying something to you. It does happen, and I can’t explain why it is so infrequent. Maybe it is that God’s existence spans billions and billions of years and he just isn’t in a hurry; maybe it is just that his message to us is so simple he only needs to say it once or twice to us in a lifetime.
    Being Catholic on a day to day basis can be hard. It is a discipline – as St. Paul said, I have run the race, fought the good fight. But don’t be in despair that the transcendent experience will forever be a part of everyone else’s life, and not yours. Find little moments of surrender. And someday a big, loud voice will tell you that everything will be alright.

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