Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

Is the Catholic Faith Too Hard To Live?

“I’d go to Church more often, but I don’t need that Catholic guilt.” “I go to confession, but it doesn’t work for me. I only confess the same sins again and again anyway. What’s the point?” “Who can follow all of those rules, rules, RULES!”  “I’ve left that religion with all of those man-made rituals and regulations in order to have a personal relationship with Jesus.”alg167501

I have formed adults in the Catholic faith for almost twenty years. During this time, I have heard so many reasons why lukewarm Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and Ex-Catholics are they way that they are. These folks are utterly convinced that the Catholic faith is too demanding and too arbitrary. Practicing the Catholic faith has become heavy-laden with too many rules to follow by popes who apparently had nothing better to do than to invent a myriad of ways to suffocate liberty and joy from the Gospel, or so they say. Of course, this implies that all of us dumb Catholics who actually try to follow this convoluted labyrinth of man-made hocus pocus are, well, dumb—and gullible; or worse, warped.

I can appreciate these false understandings, as the Catholic faith demands much from us, and when we choose not to give it our very best, we can unwittingly leave a very insipid taste in those we encounter.  Thus, we help to create the indifferent or disillusioned. Yet, if it is correct that the Catholic faith is riddled with arbitrary laws that are not true or helpful, why hasn’t the Church fallen into complete corruption and disintegration, like the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, the East India Trading Company, the Oakland Raiders… (o.k. I’m originally from Denver…)?? Why didn’t the Church collapse like Luther and Calvin and Marx and many others predicted? Clearly, the Church doesn’t operate according to worldly standards.

One of the strengths of the old Baltimore Catechism was that it did a tremendous job of presenting the richness of the Catholic faith in a simple format that combined memorization with questions and answers. Yet, this strength was also its weakness. Too many Catholics were left with the impression that Catholicism merely consisted in following a bunch of rote rules and sets of obligations. Where is the joy and liberty of being a child of God in that? Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that the old Baltimore Catechism offered some great content, much more than what I received growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, but it appeared to lack sophistication and relied heavily on memorization.  The catechism gave the impression that the Catholic life reduced to lists of   ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts.’   Couple this with concupiscence, and it seems that in trying to obey all of the rules we are merely being set up for a fall. Didn’t Jesus come to deliver us from such a Pharisaical approach to religion?

This way of viewing Catholicism seems to be the normative paradigm against which too many people react. This is the Catholicism that can foster the exodus of former Catholics into evangelical Christianity. This is the Catholicism that creates the more liberal approach that seeks to free us from the rules by simply eliminating them. This is the approach that can lead to fallen away Catholics looking for joy in all of the sinful pursuits.

What is the Catholic Gospel, anyway?  Simply, it is the fact that Christ died for our sins, freeing us from bondage to the devil and to death, adopting us into His divine family, so that we can live as children of God! As a consequence of this election, we have a full, joyful, happy, balanced, and peaceful life.  The choice is ours. And here is where the trouble comes in! Faint hearts don’t win fair rewards. If we approach our faith as simply following rules and not essentially about having a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, then all of the critics are right.

However, as we grow in love of Jesus, we discover the teachings of the Church in a new light: they are designed to protect love–the precious gift of Christ poured forth in our hearts. When we seek to love God with all of our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to love our neighbor as our self, there are certain actions that, when committed, undermine or even destroy this love. The purpose of the Church’s teachings is to clarify for us (from 2000 years of living and reflecting on this divine love) what to do and what avoid in order to protect this Indwelling Diving Love.

Let’s use marriage as an example. With marital love comes certain obligations and responsibilities—some more serious, others maybe not so serious. If we were to compile these individual acts of love into a list, we would end up with a very long list. This list contains obligations that we must follow if we want to preserve our love and want it to grow. When marital love grows dull, this list seems suffocating.

So, too, in our relationship with Jesus. If our love is allowed to wane, then the Church’s teachings seem too hard. Thus, the problem is not rooted in obeying rules, but in not recognizing that the rules are more than arbitrary. Rather, they are the way to live and grow according to the law of love.

To avoid this apparent restrictive and joyless life for the Catholic, I would like to offer the following points for practical and personal application:

1.) Receive the Eucharist as often as you can. This is the very love of God poured forth into our hearts promised by Jesus. Even more astounding, it is Jesus, body, blood, soul, and Divinity, offered to us mysteriously under the appearance of bread and wine.

2.) Receive Him in a state of grace. That means to practice the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least monthly, or any time we are aware that we have willfully committed a grave sin. After all, one does not give sustenance to a corpse. We must be spiritually able to receive divine sustenance in order to benefit from this grace.

3.) Practice daily mediation. Pick up the Gospels and read a little and then stop when something strikes you. Put the book down, and let that point sink in. When you get overcome with distractions, pick up the Gospels and continue reading until the next thing strikes you. Repeat this process. This approach to prayer was encouraged by St. Theresa of Avila to her community. I have profited much from it myself, so I know that it works.

4.) When you are finished with your 20 minutes or more of spiritual reading,   make a daily resolution. A resolution is a promise we make to God to respond to His grace by seeking to uproot some predominant fault that our spiritual reading has just uncovered. You can keep the same resolution daily, or change it up, depending on how the Holy Spirit moves you.

One note on this: the best way to uproot a fault is to work on the opposite virtue. As we develop the virtue, doing the good becomes easier, more joyful, and we act towards it more promptly. Thus, the life of repressing the evil inclination is replaced by a life of doing the good.

5.) Lastly, examine yourself at the end of the day and see how well you tended to your resolution. Thank the Lord for your days’ blessings, challenges, and benefits. Tell Him that you are sorry for offending Him by not keeping your resolution firmly if that is the case, and promise to put more effort into keeping your resolution tomorrow.

I challenge any of you who consider yourself in one of the aforementioned categories—fallen away, liberal, lukewarm, etc. to try this for one month with utter sincerity and perseverance. I want to hear from you. I bet you that after one month your view of the Church will change!

 

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35 Responses to “Is the Catholic Faith Too Hard To Live?”

  1. Russell says:

    I believe that the priests and bishops have conditioned the people since Vatican II to intolerance of the hard truths of the Catholic faith. The Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts which Christ has given to man. The problem is that people want the Catholic Faith on their terms, not God’s. They don’t want to renounce the world, deny themselves, take up their cross, or live the life of penance to which they have been called. They want the world all week long with a little bit of fluff Catholicism on the Sunday morning side, and then they wonder why their soul is empty and they are so unhappy. I found a great blog called “Catholicism…Straight Up!” The address is gotcatholicism.blogspot.com. The woman who writes for it doesn’t mince words; she tells the people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Unfortunately, hungry Catholics have to go to the Internet to hear good teachings in order to make up for what they aren’t receiving at Mass. A lot of these Cotton Candy Catholics would shrivel up if they had to sit under the preaching of St. Jean Vianney and others like him. I don’t believe that the problem lies with the Catholic Faith; it lies with those who want it on their terms, not God’s.

  2. Art H says:

    Hal I understand that the churches teaching on divorce have been subverted because the protestant churches yielded to the pressures put up upon them and allow it. When we read scripture it becomes very clear what Jesus taught. I will add one more scripture verse to be read and meditated upon. Mark 10 vs. 5-9.

  3. Larry B says:

    It took me 10years to fall away from the catholic faith. But, at the end of the day after listening to all the beliefs and theology I have fallen in love with Judaism. I used to believe that Jesus died for our sins simply because that’s the way I was raised. I did my first communion, conformation, got married in the Catholic Church etc. When I had the opportunity I went to church every day. Then one day I was reading what Christians believed about the Old Testament and how they thought scripture pointed to Jesus. I was in my 30’s when I first read this or paid attention to it. After reading it I totally disagreed with the churches belief of what it was saying. Still further studying I have come to disagree with most of the Christians teaching about the Old Testament. I still believe the catholic faith and church is great, I simply disagree with all their teachings now. I study only the Torah and do my best to live an good life. I worship only the god of Israel and do no longer believe Jesus is god. My wife has stayed catholic, I go to church with her sometimes and we believe mostly we agree on everything except Christ deity and all that goes with that.

  4. Tito says:

    Simply put, in purely human terms the Catholic faith is not just too hard to live, it is impossible to live it. In the first place, the Catholic Faith is not simply a set of propositions to be believed in and rules to obey and rituals to follow, but is in its deepest reality the presence of Christ in us by Grace. “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me” or “To me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” We live or ought to live our faith in and through Christ living in us by His Spirit, or his Sanctifying grace. Without this grace, or Christ’s presence in us we can do nothing supernaturally good, meritorious of heaven. Christ said, without me you can do nothing. We have to be united with Him in order to really live the Christian life. In the final analysis it is Christ by His Spirit who is the source of our strength, our good works, indeed our joy. When we love someone we are letting Christ love that someone in and through us. The Sacraments are the source of this Sanctifying grace, this abiding presence of Christ in us. The more we receive Christ through the Eucharist or the Sacrament of Reconciliation the stronger we become in overcoming our evil inclinations and the more joyful we are. Joy, as Chesterton said, is the secret of the Christian.

    • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

      Tito, thank you for your comment, and well said. In one paragraph you stated beautifully what took me an entire article! May you continue to live in the joy of Christ, and pray for me!

  5. James says:

    I have essentually been living a celebate life since 1998. I’m still middle aged. I still struggle with it. When I started making regullar monthly confessions it began to become easier. The grace of this sacrament has made one of the biggest differences for me. It is a heavy cross at times. However; I’m beginning to see this cross as an avenue for my salvation, a way to come closer to Christ on His cross. I offer it up for ex-wife and my children. Every life has it’s cross; married, single, religious, and involuntary celebacy. Daily, I have to guard my activites and thoughts, and pray for purity. (Blessed Mary our Mother, St. Agnes, and St. Maria Garrety pray for me.) Over the years I have basically been following the suggestions in the above article. Slowly (due to my impatience and pride) I have come to relaize I am not spiritually strong enough to live purity. However; through trusing in the grace of God, He will enable my life to be strong in purity. St. Paul wrote, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” and “for when I am weak then I am strong.” Today’s reading in Matthew’s gospel it said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Satan wants me to give up. I continue by remembering to whom I am going and Who is wanting to help me. Never Give up. “Semper Fidelis”

    • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

      James, you are truly a heroic witness to sacrificial discipleship, and I will pray for you! You are discovering the secret to living a holy life: to love Jesus more than loving to sin. It is slow and painful at times, but this is why our Lord told us to pick up our crosses daily to follow Him in order to be worthy of Him. Sometimes in life our choice is not between doing good versus doing something better; sometimes its between doing something seriously sinful versus doing something heroic. Before we accuse God of not being fair, I reiterate what you stated above, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

  6. With God’s grace, believing and living the Catholic faith is not really hard. All we have to do is to open our minds and hearts, be humble and sincere. Amen.

  7. winnie says:

    Until i love Jesus truly, i was unable to live the commandments. Acknowledging this, i prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to see my deepest desire (to follow Him by the narrow gate) and grant me the grace to live His will. He did and i am free of the lusts in my life. Daily i ask for this grace as the devil is persistent. And i thank Mother Mary too and St Joseph her spouse.

  8. Bill Foley says:

    THE GREAT MEANS OF SALVATION AND OF PERFECTION
    By Saint Alponsus De Liguori, Doctor of the Church

    Page 1: “But I do not think that I have written a more useful work than the present, in which I speak of prayer as a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces that we require for that object. If it were in my power, I would distribute a copy of it to every Catholic in the world in order to show him the absolute necessity of prayer for salvation.”

    Page 24: “In several places above quoted, and especially in his book of Sentences, he (Saint Thomas Aquinas) expressly lays it down as certain that everyone is bound to pray because—as he asserts—in no other way can the graces necessary for salvation be obtained from God except by prayer.”

    Page 30: “He who prays is certainly saved. He who prays not is certainly damned.”

    Page 45: “And let us understand that if we do not pray, we have no excuse because the grace of prayer is given to everyone.”

  9. Liz says:

    The Catholic faith isn’t hard to live at all….unless you’re trying to come back to it and while away got divorced and remarried. Then, you may find yourself being told you can’t come back until you divorce your second spouse or simply (ha ha) “live as brother and sister” (ya, that will fly with your spouse). But wait, you can’t divorce your second spouse. That would be wrong. After all, you have children together. What, your spouse isn’t Catholic and won’t go for a celibate marriage? Too many strikes. You’re out.

    • Bill B. says:

      Life is difficult no matter how we live it. You surely have lived life your way, the “easy” way. Be open. God will help you back, give you the strength, to follow His Will. We all learn from our less than loving choices.

  10. orange ca says:

    confession is not that difficult. specially where I live there are more than 5 churches in 5 miles
    most penance I got is 5 hail mary, but usually 3.
    more likely , penance is several minute meditation front of adoration, this church adoration and confession is same time.
    I spend more time waiting for line in confession than doing penance.

  11. Donna says:

    Troy, the advice: “the best way to uproot a fault is to practice the opposite virtue” is the best bit of spiritual direction I have read in a long time. Thank you! Sometimes we loathe going to Confession because too often it is confessing the same old batch of sins. Do you have a handy list of vices/sins and the opposite virtues?

    • Amy says:

      This book covers the virtues and their opposite vices. It is humorous and very helpful. The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins: A Vital Look at Virtue and Vice, With Quizzes and Activities for Saintly Self-Improvement by John Zmirak

  12. William says:

    Catholics have lost(one might even say have been deprived)the realization that they are designed for eternal life but need struggle mightily to attain in. Our earthly lives, like Christ’s, is sacrificial. We have before us good and evil; and to live eternally with God, choosing good is our only option. The Church, the Catholic Church, was instituted by Christ to give graces (the Sacraments)that we all need to save our eternal souls. The Church does not tell us WHAT TO DO; rather, She tells us WHAT HAS TO BE DONE in order to live eternally with God, and it is entirely up to us accept or reject.

  13. Ed says:

    A local Evangelical preacher here in Honolulu likes to remind his flock that Catholics are under Law(Sacraments, works, etc.) while born again Christians have freedom in Christ(Gal. 5:1)by Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Sola Scriptura, etc. and not by works(“a yoke of slavery”-Galatians 5:1). This is what Catholics are up against and the reason why evangelical Christianity is so alluring.

  14. John S. says:

    The Baltimore Catechism is the basics. It was memorized in the early grades. One then went on to greater study of the Faith in later grades. Try becoming a great writer without learning the A,B,Cs and the basics of grammar. Years ago we all learned basic addition and subtraction along with the times tables. You are handicapped without the basics. The Baltimore Catechism was the basics. The vast majority of people today don’t even know the basics of their Faith.
    I strongly disagree that the Baltimore Catechism is in any way responsible for people leaving the Church. I would suggest that the majority of those leaving the Faith know little of the basics of the Baltimore Catechism or the beauty of the more profound truths of the Faith. If they had this better understanding, they would never leave the Church for such things as Evangelicanism.

  15. Hal says:

    I also believe that if a man has had the misfortune of having damage so that he cannot engage in vaginal intercourse, he is deemed as not being able to have a valid marriage. So again, an involuntary life of celibacy. Yes, this is also straight out of the Gospel, but I think at least some other sects and churches allow marriage under those circumstances. If a married man were to meet with that accident, the sex life of both he and his wife are pretty much over (see #2, above).

    And if for whatever reason, the man and woman are unable to conceive naturally, IVF is prohibited. The Church’s rule on this is consistent with her “life begins at conception” doctrine, even if the conception is in vitro. But it must still be considered restrictive – I know at least two nominally Catholic couples who have had children through IVF.

  16. Hal says:

    I think the Catholic Church’s rules regarding sexual behavior are in fact very, very hard to live out, especially in today’s society where marriage is delayed and there is no-fault divorce. Most Catholics don’t even attempt to follow them, or even know all of them.

    1. Despite being in the full flood of reproductive hormones, young people are to refrain from sexual activity of any kind, for many years after puberty. Difficult, though not unique to Catholics.

    2. Even within marriage, sexual activity is restricted. No sexual activity to ejaculation is allowed other than vaginal intercourse. Most folks don’t know that, but it is true and it is restrictive. I don’t know if it is unique to Catholics, but it might be.

    3. No contraception, of course. Nearly universally ignored in the USA, and I suspect most everywhere else.

    4. If a Catholic has the misfortune of being divorced after contracting a valid marriage, he or she is condemned to a life of involuntary celibacy. It’s right out of the Gospel, but somehow (I have no idea how), every other sect and church of Christianity I know of allows remarriage.

    Does the difficulty make Catholic rules on sexual matters wrong or incorrect? No. But don’t belittle the difficulty.

    • James says:

      I would wonder that the “every other sect of Christianity” should find it difficult to reconcile that which is “right out of the Gospel” with the contrary way they might be living their lives.

    • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

      Hal, thank you for your comments. Yes, the Church’s teachings are hard to follow, as are many other of Christ’s teachings, i.e. eat my flesh and drink my blood, love your enemy, seek first the Kingdom of God, etc. But that’s precisely the point: we can’t live Christ’s teachings as authoritatively transmitted through His Church on our own strength. With His Grace and with our generous response to it, however, we are no longer slaves to our sinful inclinations, which make his teachings so difficult. Hence, my practical and personal applications at the end of the article.
      As to your point that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, I say that most Catholics have remained ignorant on one level or another, and have been led to believe that they are free to dissent. The times they are a changin’, however, as I know more and more young families who openly embrace the Church’s sexual teachings, love them, receive joy from them, and are great witnesses to others. This way of living the Catholic faith is gaining momentum.

      • Hal says:

        At least there is admission that the Catholic faith is too hard to live out unless there is supernatural assistance. It is *uniquely* hard, even among Christian sects and churches.

        The fact that you have to buy into the magisterial authority of the church for some of them to make any sense at all only makes it harder.

        You must be seeing a different set of young people than I – the Church’s unique rules about sex are unknown or rejected if known among almost all the young folks I know at church.

        • Cody says:

          Just to comment on the “unique” difficulty, I would suggest reviewing any of the gnostic heresies, Manichaeism, Catharism, etc. Not to mention priesthood with many of the pagan deities out of antiquity.

          Just for example, Catharism was a huge religious movement and forbid all sexual relations. The ideal death of a Cathar was ritual starvation.

          Any “uniqueness” in the difficulty of the *minimum requirements* of Catholicism today derives from temporal happenstance and doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny. In fact, taken in context, Catholicism, as always, has taken a very moderate stance.

    • Rev. Mark Carrier says:

      Hal, you raise important points. In order to live out the laws of Christ and his Church, it is necessary for us all to remember the reason for doing so. It is about eternal life with Jesus. For those who do not believe, no reason exists to follow moral rules or even to acknowledge an objective morality. The situation is somewhat like driving through a city. Lots of rules, lots of signs. And lots of folks ignoring these. We may feel like making our own rules if we see no one else on the road, or we get fed up with a stop-light, but doing so will almost certainly prevent us from achieving our goal — reaching our destination. The matters that you mention are matters for self-control for the sake of the greatest goal of all.

      • Hal says:

        There is no quote from Jesus – or anywhere in Scripture – that clearly supports some of the Church’s doctrine in this area. In some cases, Scripture passages can be given an interpretation that supports the Church’s doctrine (the story of Onan, for instance), but that is conclusion searching for evidence. Only acceptance of the Church’s magisterial authority really gives these doctrines any sort of sense.

        • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

          The Church’s Magisterium has no authority to add to the Word of God, only to interpret it properly with the authority of Christ. Thus, whatever the Church teaches is found in the Deposit of Faith. Your issues, Hal, are not with the Catholic Church but with God. Again, I recommend you reread the article and seek to follow the point made at the end.

          • Hal says:

            No amount of prayer, reading, or meditation has changed the misery of involuntary celibacy in over three years of serious effort.

            Who has actually lived out the Church’s rule on involuntary celibacy? I know none and no one I’ve spoken to knows anyone, either. I wonder if there are more than a handful who stick with it, world-wide. Or have ever stuck with it.

            Prayer, reading, and meditation just makes it worse – raising problem after problem until one is raging against God and the Church all the time.

          • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

            Hal, God does not give us a cross too heavy to bear. The teachings on adultery for the divorced comes from the Master Himself-Jesus. I encourage you to seek spiritual direction, to continue your prayer life, and to open your heart to His plan for you. I understand your difficulty, but frustration and bitterness towards God, at least in my experience, always has a great deal of ego involved. You are in my prayers!

    • Joe says:

      Hi Hal, I was born in 1943 and to the best of my memory nearly all Christians whether Catholics, Baptists, Methodist, etc. had the same beliefs on sex and marriage then and quite a while afterwards. No fault divorces were not allowed in the US until 1969 when California changed their laws. I do believe that the Catholic Church interpretation of scripture is correct and indeed the ideal way to live. That being said it does not make it any easier considering the society we live in. My only real trouble understanding is the severity of the sin. For example, it just seems strange to me put sex between consenting adults in the same category (grave sin) as murder.

      • Hal says:

        I don’t think that any other Christian sect required the divorced to live a life of involuntary celibacy. Perhaps I am wrong. I am totally ignorant of the other sects restrictions on sexual acts within marriage at that time.

        • Rebecca says:

          Hi Hal,
          In Matthew 19:1-12 you will find Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. This may shine some light on the Church’s teachings on annulments. Praying for peace for you.

      • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

        Joe, thanks for your comment. By pointing our that a sin is serious is not the same as saying that all serious sins carry the same punishment, which may be where you are struggling. For instance, sins that destroy our relationship with Almighty God (like blasphemy, sacrilege, worship of false gods, etc.) are considered mortal sins and thus are in the same category as those which destroy our relationships with humans (murder sexual use of another, etc.) yet, clearly, the loss of God’s love outweighs any other loss of love. The point of categorizing mortal sins is to clarify which actions destroy the bond of love versus which injure it without destroying.

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