A few times over the last five years, I have heard myself described as a “hard-core Catholic.” It mystifies me. I am not exactly sure what the definition of “hard-core Catholic” would be.
I think of myself as somebody who often struggles to be a “bare-minimum Catholic.” And I do know how to define that. The Church in her wisdom has provided the guidelines. They are called the Precepts of the Church. This is how they are defined in the Catholic Dictionary by Father John Hardon, SJ:
Certain commandments of a moral and ecclesiastical nature prescribed for observance by all Catholics. Their formulation goes back to the Middle Ages, and their number has varied from four to six or more, depending on the times. A recent list of such duties “expected of Catholic Christians today” was formulated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, as follows:
1. To keep holy the day of the Lord’s Resurrection: to worship God by participating in Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation: to avoid those activities that would hinder renewal of soul and body, e.g., needless work and business activities, unnecessary shopping, etc.
2. To lead a sacramental life: to receive Holy Communion frequently and the Sacrament of Penance regularly.
- minimally, to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year (annual confession is obligatory only if serious sin is involved).
- minimally, to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, between the First Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday.
3. To study Catholic teaching in preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, to be confirmed, then to continue to study and advance the cause of Christ.
4. To observe the marriage laws of the Church: to give religious training (by example and word) to one’s children; to use parish schools and religious education programs.
5. To strengthen and support the Church: one’s own parish community and parish priests; the worldwide Church and the Holy Father.
6. To do penance, including abstaining from meat and fasting from food on the appointed days.
7. To join in the missionary spirit and apostolate of the Church.
Honestly, when I read this list and reflect upon my own life in light of it, it reminds me how much room for improvement I’ve got! Basically, I’m still working on fulfilling the bare minimum requirements of Catholic life. Oh, I would never willingly neglect any of these obligations. But I know I could do much better.
Especially on #1. I don’t ever miss Mass on Sundays or Holy Days if I can help it. But I could do much more to really consecrate those days to honoring God. There are unnecessary things I could cut out, and more worthwhile things I could do instead.
I suspect that as long as I live, there will always be things I can do in order to better live out these basic precepts of the Church.
So… am I really a “hard-core Catholic”? What does that even mean? And how is it different from being just plain Catholic?