Monday, December 23, 2013

Misconceptions about Christianity that even Christians have about their faith

This week’s reflection is partly influenced by a rather interesting article I came across a few weeks ago entitled ‘Seven lies about Christianity which Christians believe’ by an author named Stephen Mattson.  I have taken liberty to augment some of his very valid points, and to add in a few more of mine, which I have gleaned from my limited experience in active pastoral ministry. 

1.    Christianity gives you an edge over others in life.  No it doesn’t actually.  Especially if how you define success and personal progress is determined by worldly standards.  Unless you have new eyes and a new mind given by the grace of God to see all this as ‘rubbish’ as St Paul puts it, you will see yourself being overtaken by your worldly colleagues and friends, and wonder why your steadfast faith is not giving you the ‘success’ you thought God would have blessed you with.  One only needs to read Psalm 72/73 to see this reality.  It’s not that God doesn’t want you do succeed in life, but having a Christian mind entails that we have different aims and goals in life.  And that is where the real edge over others is!

2.    Being a baptized Christian will make me happy everyday.  Connected very much with the first point, this ‘misconception’ plagues just about every RCIA Neophyte at some time of his or her new life in Christ.  The ‘high’ that one experienced at baptism may be wonderful, but the reality is that there will have to be a ‘grounding’ when one faces the world of lived challenges and daily struggles.  The mindful Christian who is aware of his identity in Christ will realise that living out his Christian calling to the full will entail days of darkness, unknowing and a willingness to enter into the suffering of Christ.  In my own experience of my current illness, one of the more ‘disturbing’ comments I have come across is that as a priest, I should be the last one to become so ill with a blood cancer.  These well meaning comments belie the misconception that priests doing the work of God in active ministry should be well protected from any harm, illness or suffering, and be happy all the time.  Truth is, God had never promised us any rose garden, and even if he did, the rose garden is always full of thorns anyway.

3.    All Christians know how to be good people and the Church is where I can find the best of them.  The hard and sad truth is that oftentimes, it is just the opposite.  There are plenty of examples of baptized Catholics who scandalize others by their selfish, unthinking and unenlightened ways.  Bad behavior is a blanket statement that covers a multitude of transgressions from reserving seats at Masses, treating the Church pews like a picnic ground, using the phone to message or to play games during the Eucharist, habitually coming late for every Mass no matter what the time of the celebration to parking inconsiderately at lots meant specifically for handicapped worshippers even though no one in the car is handicapped.  And don't even start talking about the states of undress in Church that affects the holiness of everyone around, exposing body parts that even the sunshine should not be falling on, what more our eyes.  Of course this means that there are baptized Christians who have lost consciousness about how their behavior affects and influences their fellow Christians.  We just need to be aware that not just the world, but the Church too, is filled with broken people, and there is a need to pray for all – for them to be truly touched by God’s love, and for us to be patient with the deep and inner conversion that all of us require.  For those who are waiting for the perfect Church to exist before entering to worship, my response is "you're going to wait till Kingdom come", and I am not speaking figuratively here.  A Church that is perfect is not going to need God's mercy and compassion and forgiveness.  And if you think that the church is full of hypocrites, the reality is twofold - yes it is, and yes, we can always accommodate another one, so come right in!

4.    Once I am baptized, I am on the way to heaven.  Yes and no.  Yes it sets the movement of our souls towards our heavenly home in the eternal life of the Trinity, but it is not to be taken for granted that there would be no change in direction and our final destination in God.  It requires necessarily that we respond individually on not just a daily but moment-by-moment basis of what this being ‘in tune with God’ means and requires of us.  If we think that being baptized gives us carte blanche to live a carefree and unaccountable life, and assume that God’s infinite mercy will get us squeezing past the proverbial pearly gates, we have, as they say in teen speak, SO got it wrong.  We may be on our way to heaven, but this road can have lots of bandits and robbers who will waylay us.  As long as we are not going to steadfastly set our sights on Christ and his Kingdom, we will find ourselves making the wrong choices in life.

5.    Only our separated brethren need to read the Bible whilst we Catholics only need to ‘attend’ Masses.  A huge misconception, this one.  In fact, we need to have a good balance of both, as one without the other makes us ending up like a twin-engine plane flying on one of its engines only.  The Eucharist is supported, enriched and enlivened by the Word of God that precedes it.  But oftentimes, the excerpt that is proclaimed at Mass is so short and truncated that we don’t get a full picture of the entire account, giving us a deeper understanding of how God was speaking and working in the lives of the people concerned.  When we understand this, we can apply it to our lives in a much more meaningful way, and allow the Scripture to become a real and living word in our lives.  We only give ourselves a small peek into the richness of the Word of God if we are only going to rely on the readings proclaimed at the Eucharistic celebrations, and much less if we are only at Mass once a week on Sundays.

6.    Receiving blessings is not only good, but can assure us of a peaceful life, or worse, that it brings ‘luck’.  Indeed, the reception of blessings is a good thing, as all blessings impart an audible and often, a physical reminder of God’s love for us.  But that’s only half the truth.  The other half is actually just as if not more important.  We have to respond to this blessing that is bestowed upon us as well, in various ways.  For example, asking a priest to go to the home to have it blessed is a good and noble thing to do as a Catholic family.  But more important is the necessity to live out this blessing as a family, and to be blessing to one another within the family.  Fr Ronald Rolheiser in one of his books made a very meaningful reflection on what a house blessing essential is.  He said that when we bless a house, we also allow the house to ‘bless us’.  What this means is that the blessed house gives us a safe and loving environment to be a family in, to live out our daily struggles in, to fight in, to cry in, to argue in, and to pray in.  But nowadays, it is not uncommon for a member of the household to ask that the priest come to bless the house when no one is at home, reducing the act of the blessing to a rather superstitious act of making sure that the house is ‘clean’ than that the entire family experiences the love and presence of God when every member of the family is present and praying together with the priest at the blessing. 

7.    Once I am a Catholic Christian, I will have all the answers that I need in life.  This has to be one of the more common misconceptions that many Neophytes, and perhaps even long baptized Catholics have.  God never promised us omniscience.  Only he is omniscient.  When we are baptized, we enter into the mystery of Christ’s life, which actually had more questions than answers.  If that was for Christ, what more for us, who are not of two natures?  What we are given is a grace at baptism to enable us to enter deeper and deeper into mystery, and to be able to hold on to opposites and seeming paradoxes of life.  You will most probably not be given the proof you have always wanted of God’s existence in the way that you have always wanted.  You will not be able to understand the weakened and often unpredictable human condition that causes us as much happiness as it may cause stress and confusion.  But if we are faithful in prayer and daily contemplation, we will be able to open our hearts to the mystery of God hidden in our adversaries as well as our loved ones.  We will probably die having more questions than answers to our deepest and most longing questions, but we will also be able to say with a certain peace in our hearts ‘it is alright, because God is mystery as well’. 

8.    Evangelisation is only for the select few.  This is a misunderstanding of our basic Christian calling that either leads to a cop out or is caused by a cop out for many.  To spread the Gospel is every baptized person’s duty as a child of God.  To do it specifically in a way that is full of hardship and requiring one to pluck oneself out of one’s community to move elsewhere is something that is a vocation within a vocation, and it is not for everybody.  But make no mistake – that is only one way of evangelization.  We need to make Christ known and loved to the world around us who have yet to know and love him.  We just have to be creative in the ways that we do this so that our Christianity is more encouraging and engaging than it is off-putting and reeking of a false sense of superiority.  We need to take full advantage of the situations we are in to bring Christ up as a sign in our lives.  One very current example would be to wish your friends and relatives a blessed and holy Christmas right up to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which takes place in January, rather than the non-descript salutation of ‘seasons’ greetings’ or worse, ‘compliments of the season’.  Let the recipient of your blessed Christmas ask you why you still use the word ‘Christmas’ when Dec 25 is over, and use that as a Launchpad to share with them how we Catholics actually celebrate Christmas with a Christmas season that begins from Christmas, and why we end it with the Baptism of the Lord.  And if  you are still not sure, there’s always Google, isn’t there?  But don’t take everything you read on the internet as gospel truth.  Make sure you do sufficient and reliable research as well.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be.  Hopefully, it becomes fodder for thought as we enter into a new year and close this one with its abundance of memories, good and bad, joyful and sad, bright and dark.  As we welcome the Lord into our hearts anew at Christmas on Wednesday, we cast one eye on his second coming with a renewed vision of our faith in him and the ways that we have lived as Christians and as Church.  May we all look at our challenges as stepping-stones towards greater holiness and may each step we take move us closer to the sainthood that all of us share as our one deepest longing. 


  1. Hi Fr Luke, your reflection piece this week is certainly a rich fodder for thought.

    I know I have to accept with grace and humility, both the sunshine and storms in my life though in those difficult moments I just wanted to "scream" at God and ask "why" when I felt I lacked the strength to cope.

    Your comment about ".. bad behavior is a blanket statement that covers a multitude of transgressions" brings to mind incidents that led me to confront a couple of fellow Catholics recently. We were all in church to help with the weekly cleaning. The loud conversations, taking phone calls in church, mobile phones ringing (habitually for one person), and even eating - on one occasion only, got me all worked up. While I am definitely not "holier-than-thou" I did tick off one person on more than one occasion about talking loudly in church even though no mass was going on. Of course, speaking my mind caused some tension within the team. I sometimes wonder if "minding my own business" would have been a better option so as not to cause offence. I acknowledge I could have been kinder. This is one lesson for me to reflect on and pray about this Christmas, mindful of my own shortcomings.

    Best wishes Fr Luke for a blessed and holy Christmas, and continued improvement to your health. Looking forward to your returning to active ministry in the new year.

  2. Dear Fr Luke, thank you for this reflection. It's very good.
    I wish you all the best and may God bless you with a full recovery of your illness.

  3. Morning Fr Luke. Read, heard, viewed different versions of being truly Catholic. Yours is one of the best, structured and cohesive, enlightening and relatable. Looking forward to you sharing more of your thoughts and experiences in the coming year. Meantime, from today, have yourself a merry merry, blessed and glorious Christmas. Love from us, Ignatius, Florence & Family.

  4. Very helpful post - thank you, Fr. Luke, for setting these things right.

    As for point #2: As an RCIA helper, I refuse to sugar-coat the truth about our faith to would-be Catholics. Faithfully following Jesus can be really hard, plain and simple. It can even reduce one to tears at times (I'm guessing you might have had experience of this). After all, did Jesus not say, "... I have come to bring not peace but the sword? "
    Often one will be the object of ridicule and scorn - even from fellow Catholics! (go figure...). But those same tears of sorrow will be turned into tears of joy. One day, God willing, when we look down from heaven, we will laugh whole-heartedly at our earthly troubles - for they would seem minuscule compared to the immeasurable joy of seeing God face-to-face.

    Recently I had a heart-to-heart talk with a fellow parishioner, whose cancer is in remission right now. She told me that many of her friends and relatives expressed utter disbelief that God could let her, a good and faithful Catholic, be struck down so cruelly. She dismissed all those comments; telling them that God KNOWS exactly what He is doing by allowing all this - and there must be a deeper meaning to all the pain and hardship that she's going through. What faith! If only mine were half as strong.
    Here's wishing you and yours a blessed and joyful Christmas. May it continue on throughout the year!

  5. Fr Luke, Thanks for the down to earth reflection which mirrors the scenarios prevalent in most of the churches today. One reason for the bad behavior could be due to the lack of reverence for the body of Christ present in the tabernacle. Perhaps receiving communion so frequently has resulted in the loss of the appreciation of the real significance.....the orderly pew by pew of going out to receive communion may have contributed to this where it becomes the norm for almost everyone to go for communion. Like you said, the church is full of hypocrites and sinners (me included), rightly so for those who are healthy do not need a physician. "...... I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Mk2:17
    I can only pray that God, in his mercy, will grant us sinners the grace to change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh "little by little" with each passing day.

    Fr Luke, I have started reading your blogs a few months back and have been doing catch-up on your earlier blogs. I find them enlightening and a source of inspiration.
    May God bless you and grant you a quick recovery.

    Have a Blessed Christmas.

  6. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for your encouraging words in this week's post. Very often, especially when face with challenges in life, we fall into the traps of darkness. However, if we can calm ourselves down, reflect on what happen and seek the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance, He will lead us back to the right path again.

    Wishing you a Blessed Christmas with peace and joy.

  7. It is true in my experience,Christ is always present in the daily messiness of my life.
    "Happy Birthday Jesus"! You are the true gift we all long for. Blessed and holy Christmas Fr Luke!!!:)

  8. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    Blessed Christmas to you, and I reckon this Christmas will be special for you & family as you get to spend it entirely with your cherished love ones. ;)

    As I myself laments, this past weeks had been a whirlwind for me at work and social life, that it is only now, I find some quiet time for myself.

    Thank You for this post last week, which had been God-sent.
    I had been troubled by some discussions I had with my catholic friends, some of whom had left church due to their choice in lifestyle and how it pains me with some of the misconceptions they have of God and church. But yet, this recollection and feelings also warn me never to get into my teacher mode of thinking that I can change their perception, which as you describe can be off-putting and defeats all purpose.
    How delicate we must be to win them over, and how strong our faith must be not to be bought over ourselves by their rationalizing and relativism… indeed we are walking on a fine line…

    As St Paul, the great evangelist himself said - To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men that I may by all means save some. 1 Cor. 9:22.

    What a daunting task called upon each of us, and we may find ourselves misjudged and in isolation, yet we are consoled that God will be with us, as we can only seek His face in prayer to help us with His harvest each day, to give us strength to labor and thicken our skin to withstand the thorns in the rose bushes. ;}

    Fr. Luke, you are always in my prayers.

    Wishing you and family a Blessed 12 days of Christmas.

    United in prayers.