Being a good Catholic might be something you take for granted. Many times we have an inflated sense of self which causes us to assume that we are always or mostly always right. If that applies to you, (as it often does to me), then this list is for you. If you find that you are fulfilling everything on this list, then you are off to a good start in your practice of the Catholic faith. I say “good start” because it is never over until the day you stand in front of St. Peter at the pearly gates, and this list is just the basics. There are many other things which you can do to increase your faith and strengthen your relationship with God.

On the other hand, being a Catholic might be something that you are unfamiliar with. Maybe you are a recent convert to Catholicism, or maybe you haven’t started the journey yet, but you have been given the grace to seek out the Catholic faith. Maybe you are a lifelong Catholic and you just want to start living it fully. Regardless, this list should help you get a good start on that pursuit, which is a noble one.

1. Know your faith

The first step to becoming a good Catholic is to know what Catholicism is and what specifically it is that Catholics believe. There are many ways to do this including:

Study the Bible – The Bible, particularly the New Testament gives us the Word of God directly. It is important to understand the way God has interacted with us throughout the ages. This is known as salvation history. The Bible details all the works that have contributed to the salvation of the human race and each of us in particular.

Study the Catechism - The definitive source of this information is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism contains brief discussions of all the basics of the faith including what we believe, what our laws are, the sacraments, the commandments, and prayer. These are the essentials for living the Catholic faith authentically. The Catechism shows us how to interpret the truths proclaimed in the Bible in the way God intended.

While every Christian denomination (or at least most – there are some strange ones) professes to believe in the Bible, they all have a different interpretation of it. The Catholic Church has been given the assurance from Jesus that on matters of faith and morals, the teachings of the Church will always be true. Every faith has some portion of the truth, but only the Catholic Church has the fullness of the truth – all of it! The Catechism summarizes the truth as taught by the Catholic Church.

Read the lives of the saints – The Saints are our examples in holiness. They show us the way to live virtuous lives. Throughout history, holy men and women have sought God and brought many souls to Him. These people were so moved by the grace of God that we have declared them to undoubtedly be in Heaven. A great way to get to Heaven is to learn how other people have done it in the past and follow their example.

Study the writings of the great theologians. There is an incomprehensible quantity of writing that has been compiled over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth. While Jesus revealed everything necessary for our salvation, our understanding of that revelation can grow and bring us important insights to help us on the faith journey. When choosing a theologian to study, make sure they are approved by the Catholic Church. There are many who claim to be theologians, but they can lead us astray when their writings contradict the teachings of the Church. Look for a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur on a book before reading it. These are designations that nothing in the book contradicts the faith.

2. Participate in the life of the Church

Go to church. Attend prayer meetings or study groups. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Volunteer to teach others through a religious education program or help someone come into the Church in the RCIA program. You can help the poor or visit the elderly in a nursing home with your parish group. There are many ways to participate in the life of the Church. Just as “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), we can strengthen each other through our mutual efforts and inspiration.

Being a member of the Church requires more than just going to mass on Sundays. Though mass is a requirement, you will find that participating in some activities outside of mass to build up the Kingdom of God brings an emotional and personal encounter with the faith in a way that purely academic endeavors cannot.

Even more importantly, participate in the sacraments. Confess your sins and be free of the burden that those sins place on you. Receive the Eucharist worthily. participation in the sacraments gives you tremendous grace, which helps us to live a holy and exemplary life.

3. Follow the laws of the Church

If you want to call yourself a Catholic you need to act like one. The Church has provided for us a set of laws that must be followed in order to maintain our proper standing in the Church. These are summarized in the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament and by the precepts of the Church.

The 10 commandments are very basic in their common form. The 10 sentences to which you may be accustomed are not the whole story. The Catholic Church has given us guidelines around the 10 commandments to help us maintain a good relationship with Christ.

The precepts of the Catholic Church are laws established to help us identify the minimum requirements to consider yourself a practicing Catholic. These laws include going to mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, confessing your sins at least once a year, receiving the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season, performing the necessary acts of fasting and abstinence, and providing for the needs of the Church. Just as you would be out of place calling yourself a soldier in the army if you refused to wear the uniform and went missing from your unit, you would be out of place calling yourself a Catholic if you do not abide by the precepts of the Church.

You can go through a thorough examination of conscience in order to help you form your conscience and determine where your shortcomings are in relation to the commandments and precepts of the Church.

4. Pray

Prayer is the way we communicate with God. There are various prayers that have been prepared for us such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. Here is a list of standard prayers that will give you a good start in your prayer life. Beyond the standard prayers, we should strive to have a personal relationship with God. Just as you have to talk to your friends to maintain a relationship, so too you have to talk to God to maintain the relationship. You should talk to God in a personal way (making sure to be respectful). Let Him know your needs and desires, your concerns, your love for Him, and your gratitude for His many blessings in your life.

5. Practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy

The 7 corporal works of mercy and 7 spiritual works of mercy are the actions by which we can show mercy for others. The corporal works of mercy are ways in which we can provide for the physical needs of others. The spiritual works of mercy are the ways in which you can provide for the spiritual needs of others. These works are not simply suggestions. They are what we are required to do. We are called to help the poor, the lonely, and the hungry. We are also called to instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner. In doing these things, we can help build the Kingdom of God; making lives better, giving people comfort and strength. Perhaps the most important part of these works of mercy is the opportunity to bring the faith to others. We are all called to evangelize - to spread the faith. We can do this through our words, but the most effective way is through our actions.