“I’ve got my two normal brackets going and then I have my joke bracket,” said my friend John about the March Madness tournament.

What’s your joke bracket?

“I filled it out the way my mom would have done it.”

What do you mean?

“Well, she puts all of the Jesuit colleges at the top and then she fills in all the other Catholic schools behind that until she runs out. Then she puts the underdogs, followed by schools with funny mascots.”


My conversation with John got me thinking: Beyond a March Madness bracket, how should my Catholic faith affect the rest of my life? How should being Catholic inform big and important decisions as well as the smaller choices I make each day? What does belonging to the Catholic Church mean for my life as a whole? After reflecting on these questions and wrestling through the answers, I realized how pervasive and crucial my Catholic faith is.

“Catholic” is More Than Just a Social Identity

We are so blessed to be part of a Church that has such a rich tradition, culture, and history — the communion of saints, the body of teachings and tradition, and the ability of our Church to witness to just how great of a gift Christ has given us in inviting us to share in His Church and her culture, just to name a few. However, Catholicism defines so much more than our cultural identity. Catholicism defines our mystical identity.

Through our baptism, we are transformed from merely beloved creatures of God into members of His very family. Moreover, our entry into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation) leaves a permanent mark on our souls that demons fear and angels revere. Baptism cleanses us of the original sin of our first parents; Confirmation opens our hearts in new ways to the movements, gifts, and charisms of the Holy Spirit; and the Eucharist, each and every time we receive it, transforms our hearts to be even more like our heavenly Father’s.

Being Catholic changes the very essence of who we are; we are changed from mere creatures into beautiful, worthy sons and daughters of a loving Father. Moreover, living out the Catholic faith means so much more than going to a certain high school or praying at a certain church on Sundays. It means we have been chosen by our heavenly Father to enter into an intimate relationship of infinite and unfailing love. And our guide to our Father’s heart is the Church, which His Son has so generously given us.

Now, I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t participate in Catholic culture — we should! Like, who doesn’t love plaid jumpers and Fish-Fry Fridays? I’m also not saying that we’re being shallow and missing the true point of Catholicism if we participate in this culture (I’m in the thick of Catholic culture for sure — you should see the stickers on my water bottle). Rather, I mean to say that, as we live out our Catholic faith, we must recognize that the cultural and social pieces of Catholicism, while fun and important and beautiful, are always compliments to the essential core of our faith: intimacy with the Father. The social, cultural, and traditional aspects of Catholicism must lead us to the Father’s heart, or we have stopped too short. Jesus gave us the Church so we could know the Father’s love, not just so we could wear saint medals and scapulars.

Catholicism is Not a Behavior Modification Program

One of the most valuable resources of our Catholic Church is her wealth of knowledge and tradition. The Catechism (the official teaching of the Church) and the Magisterium (the Church’s official teaching authority) guide us to live rightly, as well as provide faithful Catholics with answers about discernment issues — big and small — and why we believe what we do. Unfortunately, the Church’s teachings and authority are often misinterpreted as imposing and arduous, merely a list of a rules we are made to follow because some dead men said so.

But, Christ gave the Church the authority to discern and share her teachings because He knew the faithful within the Church, no matter how holy, would occasionally (or always) need a guide to keep them on the right path for pursuing the heart of the Father. Our Church is that guide.

Catholic teaching does not include so many specific details about how to live because Pope Francis wants to create an army of brainwashed, homogenous robot followers. These teachings exist to free us from sin and allow us to pour out the truest love possible to God and others. Being Catholic changes so much more than how we act; our faith changes the whole of who we are. By accepting Christ’s invitation of love and entering into the fullness of His Church, we become beloved children of the Father and vessels of His love to be poured forth over the Earth. Catholic teachings on morality aim to tell us not just how to live, but how to love, for the heart of each of our vocations is to love and be loved by our heavenly Father.

Being “Catholic” is a Call to Love

When done right, Catholicism transforms us so deeply that we can’t help but fall more in love with the Lord as we continue to seek Him. The beauty of tradition, the genius of teachings, and the joy of living in the community of the Church are all wonderful things, and they most clearly and perfectly lead us into the Father’s embrace. Catholicism is much more than a way of life; it’s a pathway to eternal life.

The Father has chosen us as members of His Son’s mystical body to come home to Him through the Church. And, in the richness of our culture, history, and tradition, our Father never ceases to invite us deeper and deeper into His eternal love. We will know we have succeeded in living an authentic Catholic life, not if we get a giant Our Lady of Guadalupe tattoo or if we name our five daughters Therese, Maria, Kateri, Perpetua, and Philomena, but if we dive into the intimate, strong, gentle, and safe embrace of the Father. Christ gave us the Church to teach us to love as He loved and to bring us home — home into authentic community, the richness of truth, the communion of saints, the Kingdom of God, and the heart of the Father.

About the Author

Nick Bernard

Nick Bernard lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he works part time in high school campus ministry. His hobbies include cycling, weightlifting, photography, reading American literature, rewatching Marvel movies, and trying to make his cat like him. You can follow along with Nick on Instagram @n1ckb3rnard. 

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