Catholic to the Max


Despite GFC’s, most of us still live pretty comfortable lives… How much does God feature in yours?

Are you ‘Catholic lite’ or ‘Catholic to the Max’?

A Story: It was our habit to complain about the singing and the liturgy as we drove home from Mass – we loved the Mass and were frustrated by the situation. Then one of the kids asked if it was so bad, why did we make them go?  We realised that our negativity was undermining our efforts to raise our children to love the Mass as we did. We resolved to foster a more positive conversation about the Mass and got involved in some of the ministries.

As the Olympic Games conclude, it is difficult not to be impressed by the religious commitment of the Muslim athletes who competed even as they adhered to the extreme fasting regime of Ramadan. Yet, it is not so long ago that Catholic devotional practice called for similar commitment, a commitment which many Orthodox churches continue to this day. For example, abstaining from meat and dairy is maintained on Wednesdays and Fridays by many Eastern Orthodox Churches throughout the year, not just on Fridays during Lent as is the practice for modern Roman Catholics.

Mediocre vs  Hardcore Catholicism!

Being a Christian is more than a part time identity that we practice once a week on Sundays, or twice a year at Christmas and Easter. The salvation offered by Christ requires us to give our whole selves in love and service to him – he wants all of us, all of the time, not just the leftovers at the end of a busy weekend as we slip in late to the last Mass on a Sunday.

Moreover, unless we are living and breathing our faith as a daily practice, it will be very difficult to communicate the value of it to our children.

There’s no doubt about it… modern Catholics in the West are a bit wimpy compared to our forebears.

Long-forgotten Traditions

“I remember as a kid going to MacDonald’s on a Friday in Lent – you could pick the Catholics easily – they were all eating the dreaded Filleto-fish burger!”

“When we were kids, Confession was always offered before Mass on Sundays. If we’d been a bit too passionate in our kissing on Saturday night, we wouldn’t dream of receiving Communion without first going to Confession”.

“At our school, the bell always went at midday and every class would stop to pray the Angelus”.

“There were no evening Masses when we were kids; we had to fast from midnight so all the Masses were in the morning.”

One unfortunate consequence of this is the loss of a sense of distinctive Catholic Identity. In the same way that clubs have a uniform and schools have a motto and school song, our Catholic practices help us to develop a sense of belonging and identity; they help us to live distinctively from the rest of the population.

This distinctiveness is as important for us as it is for the wider community; it helps us to deepen our faith commitment and it helps us evangelise those whom we meet. Our parish priest once commented, that when he wore his collar, strangers were much more likely to initiate a conversation with him, including parents, the homeless, commuters and school students; it branded him a Catholic priest and opened the door to a relationship.

WYDcrowdsCatholic Pride

One of the most commonly noted experiences of people who attend World Youth Day, World Meeting of Families, or other major Catholic events like Canonisations, is the experience of being part of massive crowd of believers. It’s easy to be ‘Catholic to the Max’ at these events – but how do we proclaim our faith proudly in our day to day lives?

Here are five ideas to ‘man-up’ in our faith and become more visible in our communities.

Mary and the Baby Jesus1. When Bells Ring

It’s been my practice for the last few years to say the Angelus when my alarm goes off on my phone. Sometimes I will invite my companion at the time to say it with me. Then a few weeks ago my husband and I were at a Catholic conference. On queue my alarm started chiming – right in the middle of a keynote address! I quickly silenced it, only to hear someone else’s alarm ‘ringing the bells’ behind me. My husband took inspiration from this and we are now inviting all our Catholic co-workers and friends to join us in this simple prayer. It takes less than 3 minutes and is a wonderful way to ground your day in God.

Set your phone alarm for midday. Choose a nice ‘bell tone’ (Bell Tower on the iPhone is perfect). Download the words of the Angelus from the internet to store on your phone or print your own prayer card.

Hardcore Extension: Set your alarm for 6 am and 6 pm as well.

meatfreefood2. Meat-free Fridays

When an Orthodox Christian joined our office staff, we decided to make every Friday lunch meat free. It’s not always convenient but we’ve found it helpful to make this small sacrifice – it helps our office staff feel part of a community and gives us an easy opening to talk about our faith when visitors join us.

Yes, it takes planning and forethought – not always easy when we’re busy. But it’s amazing how when you make the firm decision to adhere to something no matter what the obstacles, it ends up being easier than when it is a weak decision.

Hardcore Extension: Why stop at meat? Make your meal meat, fish and dairy free.

goldcoinstack3. Ten Percent plus

When visiting a Pentecostal church some time ago to check out the youth group which my daughter wanted to attend, I was impressed by their commitment to financially support their church. Even the youth were expected to contribute, and not just their loose change! I picked up an envelope entitled ‘Other Giving’. In addition to their commitment to tithe (10% of their income) which is considered the minimum obligation, they were encouraged to give extra. Their ‘Other Giving’ was seen as a true gift since the tithe is understood as God’s rightful claim – it already belonged to God as the author and creator of everything we have.

Hard Core extension: Don’t be limited to generosity with your money – the tithing principle can also be extended to your time – that’s a minimum of 16 hours a week! It can be spent in prayer, worship or service to others.

2 priest saying mass4. Keep the Lord’s Day Holy

With foundations in the Jewish scriptures (see Genesis 1, and the Ten Commandments Exodus 20), the command to set aside one day a week for the Lord is compelling. While the Jewish people begin the Sabbath at sundown on Friday evening, for Christians, the Day of the Lord is Sunday to commemorate Christ’s resurrection.

Many families fill up their Sundays with sporting activities and shopping so that Mass is forced to fit around their ‘more important’ commitments. Rather than make God second, third or last on Sunday, make him first.

Decide that celebrating Mass as a family is more important. Yes it will cost. It may mean that Little Nippers or Soccer or Dance has to be scrapped from the activity timetable if it can’t be relocated. But really, isn’t that a small price to pay to live in obedience to our God who promises us eternal life?

Hard Core extension: Catholics are obliged to fast from all food for at least one hour before receiving communion (excepting the elderly and the sick). Why not extend your fast from midnight?

5. Visible Symbols

We like to tease our friends when they enter the Catholic Church by giving them some rosary beads to hang from the rear-vision mirror of their car: “You know, you’ve really bought in when you’ve got a glow-in-the-dark Jesus swinging around your windscreen!”

There are many ways to visibly proclaim your faith; a cross or crucifix necklace, a prayer space in your living room, religious art on display at home or your desk at work, bumper stickers, rosary beads, memes (pictures) posted on your social media page, religious titles on your bookshelf etc. (see p14).

Don’t go incognito – wear your faith proudly – you’ll be amazed by how many people are genuinely interested and open to conversation.

Hard Core extension: While it is important to be sensitive to the views of your friends and guests, why not invite them to join you in prayer, such as grace before meals or saying the Angelus.


What do you think? How do you reckon you rate on the ‘hardcore’ scale of 1-10? Here’s an interesting point, ask you kids to rate you and see if your answers are different! Let us know in the comments below.

Remembering 9/11NYFD tatoo

This fire fighter’s tattoo depicts Christ over the badge of the New York Fire Department (NYFD). The badge has its origin in the Maltese Cross – dating back hundreds of years, it is a symbol of courage and honour. Almost the entire fire department in NYC was staffed by the descendants of Irish Catholic migrants.

The NYFD lost some 343 fire fighters in the September 11 terrorist attacks. On that fateful day, Fr Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the fire department hastily conducted a Reconciliation service before the men entered the evacuating Twin Towers, knowing that few would survive. Fr Mychal Judge himself also perished that day.

On the anniversary of the attacks, we remember the bravery of those who willingly gave their lives that day to save the lives of countless others.


This article featured in the September 2012 edition of the CathFamily e-Magazine.

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Francine Pirola

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