Blog/CYM Blog

Compartmentalized Catholicism

“Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like those under the law –Though I myself am not under the law–to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law–though I am not outside of God’s law but within the law of Christ– to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23


We live in a culture of compartmentalization. In the hustle and bustle of our schedules and our commitments, the ability to keep things in their proper place is sometimes all we can do to stay sane and keep all the plates spinning. However, this way of life has a way of casting a false sense of importance on the passing things of life while encouraging us to keep the things that really matter from crossing over into the other spheres of life.

We see this on a grand stage under the banner of “Separation of Church and State,” as if one’s moral imperatives inspired by faith can be kept in the recesses of the parish. We also see the chaos bred in the lives of those who feel the need to differentiate between having a fruitful and fulfilling career and having a full and life-giving family life.

In our Church we see it in the way Our Lord is abrogated to a single hour (or less) of Sunday Mass and in the extreme drop we see in teens and young adults who receive their Confirmation or their Catholic Education and are never heard from again. That is, until the time comes for a marriage or baptism when the faith is pulled from its shelf and dusted off.

Unfortunately, our parish and ministry programs all too often play into this compartmentalization of life and we end up viewing our programs, prayer groups, classes, and parishes in the same way we look at the rest of life. I go to the school to learn, the store to buy groceries, my church to get my weekly dose of Jesus, and please make sure the three don’t touch.


As ministers, as faithful Catholics, it is a crucial part of our personal development and our ministry to see beyond the lies that force us to separate and rank the various spheres of life.

I’m not simply a husband at home and a minister at work. I’m not just a son to my parents in their home and a parishioner to my pastor in the pew. As Paul says, we are meant to be “all things to all” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23), not in a way that is false, as a chameleon blends into the environment, but rather in a way that is full, genuine, and supported by the fullness of all aspects of life.

In terms of ministry, we are only succeeding if we are able to instill in others the desire to answer the call of Jesus to “Go forth and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). Are our volunteers, teens, young adults, scouts, coworkers, etc. taking what they glean from their respective ministries and using it to minister in their own lives?

In order bear fruit, we need to get away from this idea of filling in the gaps or preaching on what we find important, and focus instead on helping to break down the walls that stand between the faith and all other aspects of life.

Instead of training people to schedule their faith, train them to live it. Instead of training them to walk the line of dos and don’ts, obligations and deadlines, train them in the fullness of prayer and the sacramental life.

Don’t think of it as scheduling a prayer time. Instead, make sure that not an hour goes by that you don’t pray. Stop simply fulfilling your sacramental obligations, and instead find ways to fall in love with the Eucharist and grow from the graces of regular Confession. Find ways to take Jesus and His Word with you after Mass (missio) into our homes, politics, workplaces, and schools, and take on the personal responsibility to disciple and train others to do the same.

Yes, this will take time and deeper investment on our part.

Yes, this will force us as ministers to walk ahead of our teens and fellow parishioners on the path in order that they can be guided.

We will be forced to invest more deeply in the wellness of individuals instead of simply focusing on the group at large, but we will also be walking with Jesus and doing the work that he did in ministering to each and to all we encounter.

Image via Flickr, CC 2.0, Logo added

About the Author

Perry Rihl

I love Thai food, old books, and stupid puns. I'm married to a beautiful, patient, and holy woman and I live and work as a youth minister in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. God allows me to lead worship and retreats all over the place and you can follow me on Twitter @dprihl.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.