Practising our faith 

A few weeks ago, I was approached by someone suggesting I attend a bible reading session in Bristol. I responded that I was a practising Roman Catholic and already did bible study. But afterwards I thought about the term I used “a practising Catholic”. Just what did I mean? It’s a term we often use and perhaps it needs some thought. 

We call a group of doctors a medical practice; lawyers practise as barristers; we talk about putting an idea into practice. Is that what I mean? Or is it that I am practising in the sense of perfecting a skill as if practising being a Catholic is like practising the piano or practising ball control for football?

A dictionary will say that practise is: – The act of doing something.

So, in a religious sense, it means we carry out the actions defined by our religion (e.g. attending Sunday Mass). In sport it means to train or drill. In the sense of practising a talent or skill, practice describes doing something repeatedly to acquire skill (e.g. piano practice). And finally, the word also means to pursue as a profession or occupation. So, the same person can practise Christianity, tennis, violin, and medicine. (But probably not all simultaneously!)

The more we do these things, the bigger difference they’ll make in our lives. In sports, the individuals or teams who win are usually the ones that practise the most often. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly improves performance. The talents talked about in today’s gospel need to be used.

One element of practice is to do it with others. You don’t improve your performance at tennis by hitting the ball against a wall on your own. You need to bounce the ball – or the religious ideas – off other people. Others may offer new ideas and new insights.  And these others will also keep you from developing bad habits as you practice. So, we need a coach, an instructor, a mentor. That means listening (not nodding off) to homilies at Mass and, if possible, reading and going to other meetings to discuss with others and improve our knowledge of the faith.

Because practising our faith or using our talents is not just a matter of following a set of rules. It is working at understanding these rules and acting out their meaning.

P Wells