I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.
Living a devotional life pleasing to God requires a balance of various elements. This article explores what the ingredients to a God-honoring devotional life are for Catholics and how they should balance these. They are:
It is common for people to emphasize some aspects of the devotional life to the exclusion of other aspects. We are to have a balance of these various elements to truly prosper in God's ways.
God created the church(the one, holy, catholic [universal], and apostolic Church) to bless his people. The closer Christians are to living a life in union with the church and its teachings, the more we will be able to receive God's blessings.
The Catholic Church considers itself to be the one true Church and teaches that the various Christian churches and Christian (Protestant) communities are connected to the Catholic Church in various degrees. They teach that the closer we are to the Catholic Chuch, her infallible teachings, her sacraments, and her church hierarchy (pope, bishops, priests, deacons) the closer we are to God.
Some emphasize this to the exclusion of the other elements of a devotional life. Too bad.
Catholics truly receive many blessings from God through the Eucharist (mass with devotion to the blessed sacrament), confession, and many other Catholic sacraments, teachings, rituals, etc.
Requirements such as Catholics must attend mass every week and must confess their mortal sins once a year are truly blessings for those who believe and obey the commandments of the Catholic Church.
Only the Catholic Church still follows the teaching of Jesus that there is no such thing as divorce.
While some non-Catholic Christians emphasize the importance of behaving in a way pleasing to God, only the Catholic Church considers the faith life of Christians as a salvation issue. Thus, Protestants can teach and preach we should do such-and-such, but in the end it doesn't affect our salvation as long as we truly believe Jesus is our savior and Lord, that He has forgiven us of all our sins.
The Catholic view is that a key way we express our faith in God and our love of God is through obedience to God's law and commandments. If we don't change our behavior (repent from our sins) we are not really saved at all because we don't really have faith at all. Having true faith requires we change our behavior and turn from sin.
The Catholic Church teaches which behaviors are sinful and which are not. They teach that Catholics must study and learn moral theology as taught by the Catholic Church and must commit their will to these teachings and dogmas in order to please God. I agree that to believe that God merely sees Christ's righteousness instead of our sins is madness.
Charity is our expression of our love of God through our love of each other and of those who are in need.
The "Peace Prayer of St. Francis" is a good guide to follow:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
We should actively strive to improve the world in our interactions with others.
Non-Catholic Christians (Protestants) typically have a narrow view of prayer and meditation. They usually limit themselves to extemporaneous prayer. Charismatics usually encourage "prayer in the Spirit" such as speaking in tongues and proclaiming the word of God in the Spirit. However, most Protestants de-emphasize repeating or reciting prayers composed by others. (Imagine if we had the same thing in music: no written-down and composed symphonies or movie scores; if all of music was improvisational.)
Many Protestants read various devotional writings from the Bible or from Christian writers / teachers / preachers. Thus, some might read the Psalms daily, or some might read the Proverbs daily (one chapter per day), or some might choose to read various meditations / devotionals written and published by various people — but the prayers and meditations of those devout Catholics over the centuries of the church are ignored. Protestants rarely read or meditate on the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, or other Catholic Saints.
A sincere and devout devotional life requires we daily spend time in prayer and meditation. In my opinion, the Catholic Church has the proper view of what this entails.
Christians should interact with one another. Many times, "fellowship" meetings consist of discussing sports or politics. True fellowship should inspire us to live a life of faith more diligently.
Correct dogma is essential to a devotional life. Many Christians de-emphasize the importance of dogma. Some claim the role of the Spirit supercedes the role of dogma. Others have incorrect views of which teachings are dogmatic and which are merely the opinions of man.
Perhaps it is not such a big deal that some (many?) believe things as being true that are not true. There was a time in which the majority of Christians were Arians (Jesus is not deity, but a created being). Did that prevent them from attaining salvation?
While God, in His mercy, blesses those who believe in things not true, it is preferable to know true dogma, to believe it, to conform our lives to it. God can bless those who believe in error, but it is better if we believe in truth.
Non-Catholic Christians think that by discarding the so-called man-made traditions of the Catholic Church and by ignoring church history they have in some way restored "true" ("New Testament") Christianity. However, in doing so they have ignored the continuity of church history from the early church and have not even considered the "eastern" Orthodox church at all.
Some Catholics emphasize the "church" and her sacraments and rites / rituals / ceremonies to the exclusion of the other elements of Christianity. I call this "churchiness".
Some Catholics (including bishops and priests) seem to think merely being Catholic is sufficient — that God does not require us to believe the doctrine (including moral teaching) taught by the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church, nor that we must submit to her rules. But the Catholic Church does not teach this.
Many non-Catholic Christians (Protestants) have discarded the Eucharist and the mass and in doing so have lost the benefits and blessings which God abundantly provides from these.
In my opinion, the Catholic Church has neglected the importance of fellowship. They seem to think every Catholic was born Catholic and that all our friends and family are also Catholic. This makes it very difficult and lonely for converts to Catholicism, especially those whose friends were all connected with their previous non-Catholic church and who now reject them because they have become Catholic. It is cross many Catholics converts must bear.
Many non-Catholic (Protestant) Christians agree we should live moral lives but they mistakenly think their actions have no role in their salvation.
Many non-Catholic (Protestant) Christians have rejected the richness of Catholic prayer, mediation, and devotion and prefer to limit their devotional life to improvisational prayer and the reading of Protestant devotional materials. The devotional and mystical life of a Catholic Christian is, in my opinion, one of the many benefits the Catholic Church provides to her members. Many Catholic Saints contributed to this wealth of Catholic devotional teaching and experience.
Many non-Catholic (Protestant) Christians have a strong emphasis on charity, evangelism, and serving the poor. This is commendable except that in some (many?) cases anti-Catholic teaching accompanies these efforts.
Many non-Catholic (Protestant) Christians have incorrect moral teaching. For example, they seem to think that, even though the slightest sin offends God, that He readily forgives all sins we commit without us even needing to ask or beg for forgiveness because, once saved, the sinlessness of Jesus "covers" our sins.The result of this is that there is not a very strong emphasis to live sin-free lives nor the knowledge of how to do so. Examples of mortal sins (sins resulting in loss of salvation) which many Protestants think are not salvation issues:
Yet the Catholic Church teaches that these are mortal sins and that we lose our salvation by practicing these.
Some Catholics emphasize their devotion to various Saints and the various Catholic devotions and de-emphasize their relationship with Jesus. Their religious practice is superstitious and rule-based rather than faith-based. However, I should note that some Protestants who attempt to judge the faith life of Catholics often do so from their limited Protestant perspective and miss the significance of the life of the Saints and the various Catholic devotions.