Exactly How to be a Good Catholic

Knowing just what is required of faithful Catholics can be confusing. Especially in this time of blogs and social media. Blogs can be a really great way to learn about our faith, but it's easy for bloggers (even yours truly) to make it seem like particular practices are mandatory for Catholics, or even just "better," when in reality those are just practices that SOME people find helpful in living out their own faith, but that are by no means required to be practiced by all Catholics.

Things like homeschooling, and not working outside the home, have been such an important part of my own faith journey that it's easy for me to confuse them for "Best Practices for Catholics." They may be best practices for ME but they're not universal.

Similarly, I've encountered folks who present things like veiling, or attending Latin Mass, or adhering to a prairie-dress-type standard of modesty, or boycotting, as things that "real" Catholics should do, but I haven't personally felt called to any of those things, myself.

On the other hand, many beliefs and practices that ARE required of the faithful are often presented as optional, or expired, or nice but unrealistic, or a private matter of individual conscience. When, really, they're not.

If only there were a list, right? A list of the opinions and actions that ARE required of Catholics. Well, now there is. Just kidding. One comprehensive list would be pretty much impossible, but here's my attempt to compile a list of the basics, so we'll all know what our goals are.

A good Catholic is required:

  • To believe in God, the Father Almighty, the first person of the Trinity, who created Heaven and earth.
  • To believe that Jesus Christ is God's only son, the second person of the Trinity, fully God and fully man.
  • To believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried.
  • To believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.
  • To believe that the Holy Spirit is God and the third person of the Trinity.
  • To believe that the Catholic Church is the one established on earth by Jesus Christ.
  • To believe that the souls of the just live in Heaven and that they can hear us and intercede with God on our behalf.
  • To believe that Jesus Christ gave to his apostles the power to forgive sins, and that this power has been passed along to the priests of today.
  • To believe that this world will come to an end, at which point there will be a final judgement of each and every soul by Jesus Christ, and our souls will be reunited with a corporeal body, and we will live forever.
  • To believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God, a perpetual virgin, immaculately conceived, and assumed into heaven.
  • To believe in the power of baptism to forgive sins we have already committed and strengthen us against future temptations to sin.
  • To believe that in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearances of bread and wine.
  • To renounce sin and the lure of evil.
  • To believe in and renounce Satan, not as a concept, but as a being.
  • To avoid occult and new age practices including Ouija boards, horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, and mediums.
  • To attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation.
  • To fast and to abstain on the days appointed.
  • To confess our sins at least once a year, but monthly or even weekly is recommended.
  • To receive Holy Communion during Easter time, but weekly or even daily is recommended.
  • To contribute financially to the support of the Church.
  • To observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage.
  • To raise our children in the Catholic faith.
  • To remember Jesus' Good Friday sacrifice by observing every Friday of the year as a day of penance by abstaining from meat, or with the permission of the bishops (as in the US) to substitute another voluntary penance instead of abstinence from meat.
  • To observe the Ten Commandments.
  • To love the Lord our God, and our neighbor as ourselves.
  • To defend Catholic social teaching and, whenever possible, to vote only for policies and candidates that are in line with those teachings.
  • When that isn't possible, to vote giving greatest weight to the matters of greatest moral significance.
  • To oppose abortion, euthanasia, sexual activity outside of marriage (be it heterosexual, homosexual, or solo), contraception, sterilization, polygamy, divorce, pornography, unjust war, and unjust use of capital punishment.
  • To practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as our station in life allows, and to support others who do with prayers and financial support.
  • To properly form our conscience. A good way to do that is by reading the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the lives of the saints, and getting to know faithful Catholics.
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Ummm, apparently, I'm not a good Catholic. Now what?

Well, the good news is, you are still welcome. As James Joyce said of the Catholic Church (in Finnegan’s Wake), "Here comes everybody!" The Catholic Church on Earth is called the "Church Militant." That means fighting. It means fighting against sin, against our baser inclinations, against our failures. It also means fighting against our ignorance and misunderstandings. It means we're all a work in progress.

I'm pretty sure I'm in a state of mortal sin. What now?

Don't receive communion until you have made a good confession. Change your life. Avoid the near occasion of sin.

I want to be Catholic, and I agree with most of it. But the Catholic Church is wrong about .

Inform your conscience and pray. Learn what the Catholic Church really teaches about that issue and why. Check out Catholic Answers. Read a good book. Find a faithful priest and talk to him about it. Email a faithful Catholic blogger. Pray about it. Ask God to help you understand. "I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief."

I've tried before, but I just can't do it.

Try again. Trust in God. You can do it. Read the lives of the saints. Some of those guys were a MESS. If they did it, you can do it.

Works cited:
The Nicene Creed
Rite of Baptism for Children
The Precepts of the Church
The Real Presence
Doctrine Concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Laws of the Church Concerning Marriage
The Ten Commandments
The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
The Participation of Catholics in Political Life
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Bible

Where to learn more:
Catholics Come Home
Catholic Answers