Beware of the Tepidity of “Clipboard Catholicism”

by Barb Ernster –

Marc Olivier Jodoin, Unsplash.com

The Catholic Church has a rich history of wonderful devotions that have developed and evolved over the years, many going back centuries. Devotions, novenas and prayers to Our Lady and the saints have accumulated. Unsurprisingly, most have promises attached.  

Sometimes, as Catholics, we can get weary of sorting through all the ways in which a prayer might be answered. I was recently told of a Baptismal Renewal prayer that parents are saying for their children who have fallen away, and are seeing “results.”  I recall praying the novena to St. Therese, the Little Flower, for a special intention. I joked with my friends that I didn’t get my roses – a “sign” associated with the novena. That night I had an incredible dream involving my deceased mother handing me two bouquets of flowers in different colors that seemed to point to the intentions I was praying for. I’m still waiting for the prayers to be answered, but I trust St. Therese is working on it.

Many people pray the 54-day St. Padre Pio Rosary for special intentions; some are answered, some not. I have prayed the Divine Mercy Novena leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday for a special person on numerous occasions, with no change in this person’s life. Yet I trust that it’s all in God’s providential time. None of this is wasted prayer.

These types of devotions are all good, but we have to be careful not to do them in such a way that we run from one thing to another, hoping something else will work better with God. Or to put our focus on following them to a “T”, rather than doing them with fervent hearts and the right intention. When our daily devotions become a checklist of things to get done before our 24 hours are up, what I call “clipboard Catholicism”, we can become tepid in the faith.

Rather, we should check our hearts. Are we doing the devotions to give something of ourselves to God and seeking a closer relationship with Him? Do we trust God? Are we present in mind and soul when we do a devotion?

God is so incredible, so infinite, so immense, we cannot grasp Him. St. Francisco exclaimed at the immense light that radiated from Our Lady’s hands during the Fatima apparitions – “What is God?”  Unable to explain what he was seeing, he cried out a great prayer of adoration and praise to the Almighty. Francisco, as we know, went on to become a little contemplative, satisfied only with sitting with Jesus before the tabernacle so he could console Him. I’m guessing Francisco did not babble on and on with one petition after another. He just sat with Him and trusted that He heard his prayers.

The First Saturday devotion can become a checklist too. The purpose of this devotion is to grow closer to the Heart of Mary and make reparation for sins that pierce her Heart and offend God. Trying to complete five consecutive First Saturdays can sometimes be difficult to accomplish and people give up if they can’t get that 4th or 5th Saturday in. It might be better to view every First Saturday as a special day to set aside for Our Lady. It’s a good reminder that it’s time for confession. Pray your Rosary and truly meditate for 15 minutes with your heart. Try to get to Mass to receive Holy Communion. Sometimes I miss a part and have to be satisfied that I did my best and Our Lady will accept what I could offer her that day. What is important is that I did it in reparation and to console her Heart.

The same can happen when you start a novena and midway you miss a day. Just start with the day you are on, the next day, and persevere if completing it is important to you. If your daily Rosary becomes something you just have to get done, perhaps just try one decade and truly meditate on that mystery. The Lord would rather you give Him 10 Hail Marys with all your heart, than 50 indifferently.

At the time Sister Lucia was given the First Saturday devotion, people were already practicing a similar devotion, receiving Holy Communion on first Saturdays and praying a 15-decade rosary in honor of Our Lady. Sister Lucia had been struggling to spread the newly-defined First Saturday devotion that was to be done in reparation to the Immaculate Heart, when the Child Jesus appeared to her on Feb. 15, 1926, and asked her if she was doing that which the Heavenly Mother asked of her.

She responded, “But my confessor said that this devotion made no difference to the world, for there were already many souls that received you on the first Saturdays, in honor of Our Lady and the 15 mysteries of the Rosary.”

Jesus replied, “It is true, daughter, that many souls begin them, but few finish them. Those that do finish them, do so with the intention of receiving the graces that were promised. Those who do five (decades) with fervor and for the intention of making reparation to the heart of their Heavenly Mother are more pleasing to me than those who do the fifteen tepidly and indifferently.”

Jesus echoed this same teaching, when he quoted the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me…” (Mt 15:8-9)

Let us not grow weary and tepid. Rather, let us approach the Lord with all our hearts, our souls and our minds, and make sure our devotions are offered with right intention: for love of Him.


Barb Ernster is the Communications Manager/Editor for the World Apostolate of Fatima USA.

One Response

  1. True. I once ( in the mid 1980’s) put St Therese of the little flower to the test. She had answered numerous Novenas with roses, so I decided to do a St Therese novena while out in the wilderness of a fish camp in Alaska with my two young children. I knew there would be no roses there!! When I got back to civilization, I got a call from the hospital I had worked at. They said to come and pick up some mail I had received from London. I knew no one in London, so I was perplexed. The package had arrived mid way through my Novena, from a patient off a cruise ship that I had cared for through his heart attack. I opened the box, and saw a covering of carved pewter roses. I lifted the cover and the bowl beneath was filled with dried fragrant rose petals from London, England. I never tested St Therese again. I love her saintly intercessory prayer power, and trust her completely.

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