“Move the needle”…business jargon at its finest. The phrase might be overused in sales meetings, but it’s underused when discussing our faith. It’s healthy for us Catholics to pause and audit our faith, taking note of our current strengths and weaknesses, so we can make sure we are ‘moving the needle’–progressing in our faith–rather than standing still. If we’re not moving forward, we’re stumbling backwards. For the Christian faith to bear the fruits of joy, love, and salvation, it must grow! A Catholic needs to advance their faith on all fronts. And in order to be a well-rounded Christian advancing in their faith, bearing the fruits of the “vine”, we cannot afford to stand idle, even if we are idling in a place we think is noble. As Saint Paul writes in First Corinthians, we are all running a race to salvation…so let’s make sure we move forward.
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
-Bl. Mother Teresa
I’ll break up the Christian faith “audit” into five areas of reflection: Interior Life, Reverence, Study, Love, and Evangelization.
The largest part of our interior life is prayer. While many Catholics pray, they likely don’t have a “prayer life”. Random prayers of petition provides no meaningful interior life. Our prayers must start from a perspective of gratitude before we start asking for things we want. We should be embracing both structured and unstructured prayer in our lives too. We need to carve time away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives for prayer. Too often prayer takes a back seat to seemingly more pressing, or more enjoyable, matters.
Good prayer is indeed good for us. First, it is a way we establish a personal relationship with Christ (I know, doesn’t that sound so protestant-y…ew). This is important because it opens up our hearts to God’s will. We should be praying more often for strength through grace and an openness to God’s will rather than for things we will to happen. Prayer is more effective at strengthening us and reconciling our wills to the Lord’s than it is at convincing God to change for us. Rarely does the Heavenly Father say “Okay, okay, good point. I have not thought of it that way, here’s the winning lotto numbers…”
I could put a cute quote in here about prayer strengthening the soul, but there are simply too many to choose from. With a disciplined prayer life comes a spiritual workout. It’s like an invisible muscle that gets stronger. When you work out your spirit, your interior life becomes stronger. I know, this sounds cheesy right? But I have experienced it first hand. With a strengthened interior life, you are better able to face situations that seek to destroy your mind and spirit. Prayer can also be meditative (the Rosary especially), and many scientific studies have boasted the the mental, emotional, and even physical benefits of meditation.
If you’re still too bashful to engage in any real prayer, you need to get over it. We’ve all been there, so don’t think you’re different. Also, if you’re a parent, your kids need to see you praying too. Strive to up your prayer game to two Rosaries a week or a decade a day. Strive to pray at times of the day you don’t normally pray. Bring certain saints into your prayers. Find new ways to pray. ‘Move the needle’.
Another way a lot of us can work on ‘moving the needle’ is by assessing the reverence we show our Lord, especially at Mass. It’s something that American Catholics are becoming worse at because, I think, some combination of laziness, ignorance, or bashfulness.
All of us can do a better job at showing respect and praise to God. As most Mass-goers can tell, people are struggling with their ability for reverence. I want to list all the ridiculous things I have seen at Mass lately but I realize that I should not be paying attention to what other people are doing…something I’m trying to ‘move the needle’ on myself. In fact, one way of combating my desire to people watch at church, especially during communion, is to close my eyes in prayer or to just look at Jesus on the Cross in reflection. Post-communion kneeling is perhaps the most powerful time for prayer during your week, so we should be careful not to waste this time.
But, alas, it is difficult not to notice how many people act during Communion at most parishes. Along with striving to be in a state of grace, more people should consider receiving Communion on the tongue (and kneeling too). Even if we are at a parish where most people receive in their hand, we need to realize that the only person there that matters is Christ…at first, it’s easy to feel self-conscious what other people will think. But it doesn’t matter what other people think. How we treat and respect someone, especially the Lord, shouldn’t change depending on who is watching.
We are disciples of Jesus. The word disciple comes from “discipline”. We need to find the discipline to READ. I cannot emphasize the importance of spiritual reading/learning enough. Reading helps fuel our interior life and vice-versa. I hear excuses from so many people that “there’s no time”. Yes, there is. You know what? Stop watching so much brainless TV. Stop idling on the Internet. I am a news junkie that’s constantly connected to the Internet with an infant at home but I find plenty of time to read. People need to just prioritize what they feed their mind and soul with.
There is such an insane amount of good reading that’s out there for Catholics. There is a book on every topic one can imagine by some of history’s (and today’s) most impressive minds. It also gives our soul (and brain) a hardcore workout. One feels strengthened by their new knowledge, they have more to discuss, and they will understand more about Christianity. Once you realize how rich the Catholic library is, you will be giddy with excitement that you have found the literary equivalent of Fort Knox. Despite what the media (and many protestants) would have you believe, Christianity is incredibly deep, rich, and brilliant.
Oh, also, there’s….THE BIBLE. Yes, even GOD is one of the bad ass authors that we have available to read. This is actually one area where I can ‘move the needle’ myself. Unfortunately, many protestants do this way better than the average Catholic. Most Evangelists can run circles around the typical Catholic with scriptural knowledge (even though they usually are wrong and out of context)…we need to change that. We take scripture for granted because we hear so much scripture at Mass–but that’s a poor way to study it and remember it.
There are also tons of awesome CDs on every topic you can imagine from a variety of awesome speakers. My wife and I love doing this on long car rides–it makes for great discussion too!
“Awwww, how cute, this one should be easy!” NOPE. It takes strength to love. It’s hard to love the unlovable, but that’s just what Jesus calls us to do: “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”. So many of us are like “oh I totes agree, but there’s this one person in my life that is just another story.” WRONG. We have no excuses not to follow Jesus’ command on this. We must strive to bring love, joy, and truth into the lives of everyone around us no matter how hard or no matter how badly they might have wronged us in the past.
Love might manifest in treating somebody with happiness and dignity that we come across at the supermarket, forgiving the most horrible crimes against us, or by showing generosity with our time and money. Just as we can be generous with our money to the [cash] poor, we can be generous with our ear to someone that needs to talk or with our blood for those who need blood donations.
See, I like to view love like a heat-seeking missile…let me finish. We can target different people who are in need of something (like how the Terminator has that visual cross-hair overlay when he looks at things) and deliver a package of genuine generosity and love. Lucky for us, often all that people need is a heartfelt “thank you” or a warm compliment. Turn your love game UP.
Okay I can almost hear the mouses clicking X on the browser tab right now. But listen up, Catholics: We are really far behind in this department. And I understand why. Catholics, like I mentioned in the Interior Life and Reverence sections, are embarrassed about showing and discussing their faith. Hijacked by protestants, the term “evangelize” has become a kind of dirty word in America. Evangelize simply means to spread the Gospel and this is what we are called to do at the dismissal every Sunday, to spread the Word, to evangelize our brothers and sisters. In fact, that is where the term “Mass” comes from, from the Latin word missa which means “dismissal” and “mission”. But since we stink at “go[ing] forth and spreading the Word”, the Gospel is being spread incorrectly and we are creating a bunch of misguided Christians. We are also called to evangelize by the Second Vatican Council, renewed by Saint JPDeuces.
Christians need to really man up and start talking openly about their faith, especially to their friends and family. You don’t need to be all weird about it so calm down. You don’t need to awkwardly blurt out “are you saved?!?” on a street corner. At minimum, we need to stand up for the truths of Christianity (which obviously is not happening) when confronted directly. I can’t tell you how many Catholics I know that wouldn’t offer a peep when a friend of theirs says or does something that goes violently against Catholic teaching (and, thus, their own nature). We are so afraid of being “that religious guy”. Well how about they start becoming embarrassed about being “that anything-goes pagan”.
If you really care about your friends and family, at least show a good example of the Catholic life through living an authentically Catholic and joyful life. “Spread the Gospel and, when necessary, use words”.
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So how are you ‘moving the needle’ in your spiritual life? What can you improve on? I sure have no shortage of areas I can improve on in my life. And parents, you guys have a particular responsibility to ‘move the needle’ in the life of your family so your kids can follow your lead as they get older. Good luck!
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
–1 Corinthians 9:23-26
For an entire book on a similar topic to this post, check out Matthew Kelly’s ‘The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic’.
The featured image at the top is from Getty Images’ 10th Annual Press Photo Contest