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What keeps me Catholic? Practice, practice, practice

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March 29, 2011

By Michael Daley

Though it’s a story that has made the rounds, it still speaks a great truth. As it’s told a tourist to New York City gets off the subway and heads up to the street. There, in an attempt to get his bearings straight and anxious about getting to his concert on time, he says to a New Yorker, “Excuse me sir, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”


Without missing a beat, the New Yorker responds, “Practice, practice, practice.”


On several levels, it wasn’t what the tourist wanted to hear.


If only things came easily. But, if life is about anything, it’s practice. Unfortunately, living in a culture of instant and self-gratification, practice is a concept that has fallen on hard times.


Watching my son play basketball this winter, I’ve uttered to myself on more than one occasion, “How did he miss that breakaway layup?” The answer is pretty clear, though the remedy is a little more time-consuming. It takes practice to run down the court with basketball in hand, dribbling under control, defenders on your heels, and put the ball in the hoop.


Likewise, one of my daughters is a budding dancer. From time to time I have seen her look with envy at some of the older dancers who are able to do the splits with what seems to be the greatest of ease. Yet, training one’s body, stretching the muscles and rehearsing the slow and required motions to do the splits takes time…and practice.


Full disclosure: When it comes to the practice of my faith, I’m not that good of a Catholic. All you had to do was look at me on Ash Wednesday. I had ashes on my forehead. A lot of them. I got a little nervous when I heard the person giving me the ashes say, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It was the ring of truth resounding in my ears.


Later it hit me. What keeps me Catholic? One word: ashes. Through them I admit to myself and others that I need to better practice my faith. Lent is a privileged time for us fledging followers of Jesus to become better disciples of Christ.


How do we open ourselves up to God and others? Practice prayer. How do we embrace a life of simplicity and recognize the poor in our midst? Practice fasting. How do we admit the blessing that is our life and share it with others? Practice almsgiving.


Over the course of 40 days, Lent gives us the opportunity to practice our faith in a more intentional way. Depending on the person, it may take a variety of forms — increased Mass attendance, daily prayer, devotions like the Stations of the Cross, going to Friday fish frys, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, and the like.


As Catholics we’re rightly concerned about practice. In fact, we have names for those who supposedly don’t: Chreasters (Christmas and Easter); A&P’ers (Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday); Cultural Catholics; Lapsed Catholics; etc… Thank goodness you and I are better and truer Catholics than these groups.


Lent, however, cautions us in our self-righteous judgments. As much as we’d like to state otherwise, the season of Lent reminds us that we’ve all failed, all sinned, all lapsed in the practice of our faith. It is humbling realization indeed.


My Lenten, life-long, resolution then? What keeps me Catholic? Practice, practice, practice.  


Daley is a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School and a freelance writer.

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