Q: What do I have to do to be a good Catholic?

A: It seems to me this is a question common among Catholics, as we explore our very identity as Catholic Christians. I say this because being Catholic does set us apart from other Christians, namely the celebration of the Seven Sacraments for one. Still, the approach we take here is not one of elitism, but of our relationship with Jesus Christ himself. We celebrate his Birth in a few short days, not because we want presents, but that Jesus is the greatest gift God has ever given us. Jesus wants to be part of our lives.

The easy answer to your question may seem to be to follow the Ten Commandments and be nice to people. It’s a good start, but our faith goes much deeper than following rules, it’s about our very relationship with God. That is why we attend Mass every weekend, for we receive Holy Communion, Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we hear God’s very words in the readings.  Your “going to church” is your way of saying: “Jesus, thank you for loving me.  I love you, too.” Also, by following our Church’s teachings, we inform Jesus that we trust him and are grateful for founding our Church, as we journey with Jesus into this third millennium of Christianity. The teachings of Pope Francis are the same as St. Peter teaching us himself.

We, also, should pray every day and, of course, imitate Jesus by being kind to people, especially members of our family. While the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God, we, also, have the Beatitudes, which came from Jesus himself.  These instruct us what we should do to be more like Jesus, as we set an example for others. As Jesus says, we should first love God and neighbor as ourselves.

Q: When others ask me to explain the Catholic faith, what is the best explanation I can give them to help them understand?

A: How I answered the previous question may be helpful, but let us also look at a gesture with which we all are familiar: the sign of the cross. Some may look at the sign of the cross as “dialing to pray,” but it is so much more. The sign of the cross is a prayer itself. One way of looking at it is that we thank God the Father for sending us God the Son, who has given us God the Holy Spirit.

We hear that God has so loved us that he gave us his only Son Jesus. But this is not the end of the story. We believe, as Catholics, that Jesus gave us the Eucharist, his own Body and Blood, in order that we may become like him. When Jesus returned to heaven at the Ascension, he did not leave us alone. We celebrate the great solemnity (Feast) of Pentecost at which the Apostles received the Holy Spirit.

When the first Apostles died, the Catholic Church did not leave with them. No, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ Church endured as new apostles were created, called bishops. The Seven Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which you and I have access to the divine life. We are grateful to God for the gifts of the Bible, the successors of the first Apostles (bishops), and the Tradition, which allows us to look ahead, as we treasure the fact that Jesus Christ will never leave us.

How fortunate we are to have Jesus Christ establish the Catholic Church on the foundation of the Apostles. Through the Catholic Church, God has provided us with “the fullness of means of salvation which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life and ordained ministry in apostolic succession” (Catholic Church definition taken from the Glossary in Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Q: When I pray, does God understand when I get distracted?

A: As the saying goes, “God knows us better than we know ourselves.” It seems to me that God does understand when we get distracted at prayer, but he does not encourage distraction.  Prayer is conversation with God, so you and I do not want to inform God that we do not want to hear him, of course. We do, however, know that our minds can wander from time to time.  Yes, this even happens to bishops. I am not proud to say that, but it shows that we need to work harder at listening to God.

Prayer is work. We must be able to clear our minds of worldly concerns, so that we may hear from the One who created this world in which we live. We are fortunate to have so many forms of prayer, such as reading, speaking, meditating, or even contemplating (trying to keep very still and quiet—probably the most difficult form of prayer). In the material world, much information which we need is given to us almost instantaneously by way of electronic media.  God has all the information we need but he also wants us to be present to him, not just coming to him when we need favors.

Prayer is relationship. God wants to draw us closer to him. The closer we are to him, the better we can hear him.  You and I can do our part by trying to put all distractions away while we pray. Those concerns will still be there when our prayer is completed.

Thank you for asking this question, for it does not seem like anyone is immune to distraction while at prayer. We just have to look more intensely at our Lord Jesus, whose Birth at Bethlehem over 20 centuries ago was God’s announcement that he loves us more than we can imagine.

May you and your families have a blessed and joyful Christmas.

To “Ask the Bishop,” write Office of Christian Formation and Schools, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952, attention, Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator, or email jtaylor@diosteub.org.