What is a Practicing Catholic?

A guy gets into a cab in New York City and asks the cab driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The cab driver replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Carnegie HallThis old, amusing pun underscores one of life’s universal truths. If you want to become the best you can possibly be at something, regardless of your level of God-given talent, you have to work at it; you have to practice. How many of us can recall the countless hours of practice spent by ourselves or our children in the classroom, in the music/choir room, or on the athletic field? Although each pursuit has its own specific goals and rewards, the real return on all those hours invested in practice in our youth is learning this truth, so we can apply it in our lives as adults.

For example, when we refer to someone as a physician, we are implying that the person possesses the requisite education, degrees, and certifications – that he or she is qualified to practice. However, when we describe someone as a practicing physician, we are suggesting much more. By including practicing in the description, we are saying that the person also works regularly as a physician, thereby gaining practical experience, which presumably develops his or her skill. Contrast this with a non-practicing physician who pursues a different career path but completes the minimum continuing education requirement to retain a medical license. Which one would you want caring for your health or the health of a loved one?

So what does it mean to be a practicing Catholic? We tend to think of a practicing Catholic as one who regularly attends Sunday Mass. Yet, the above physician who fulfills only the minimum requirement is considered to be non-practicing. This underscores a fundamental disconnect when it actually comes to practicing our Catholic faith. But, why should we bother ourselves with more? What is our goal as Catholics, anyway?!

Sainthood! Following the Beatitudes, in which Jesus essentially states what it means to be a Christian, He tells us, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are perfected by the daily practice of living out our Catholic faith in every moment, in every situation, no matter where we are. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Heaven is our Carnegie Hall, and no one has ever gotten there by practicing only one hour per week.

Practice, practice, practice!