Knowing and Doing

September 12, 2016

There are different kinds of knowledge. There is the abstract knowledge of facts and ideas, and then there’s the knowledge that comes from experience.

While both forms of knowledge are legitimate, there is little doubt that the knowledge from lived experience is deeper and more profound.

Take for example the learning of a martial art. One can study the different kicks, punches, and throws of the art in a book or through images. All of this knowledge can be gained from the comfort of an armchair. Yet, no matter how thoroughly these moves are mastered intellectually, this knowledge is fundamentally different and more shallow than that gained through the sweat and pain of actual practice.

We’d laugh at a self-professed “black belt” whose knowledge of karate came only from library books, who’d never sparred even once. Such a claim of knowledge would be delusional on a grand scale.

To really know a thing, we must put it into practice.

Just Do It

So it is in the spiritual life. The only knowledge that really matters is the knowing that comes from doing. But it’s the doing that’s much harder than the facts.

I know this from experience. I collect and read books about prayer and asceticism. I pour over them until I am positively aglow with knowledge. “What great advice,” I think. “What a nugget of wisdom! This is the way to heaven!” And the more I read, the more spiritual facts fill my head. The more spiritual facts that fill my head, the more I fancy myself a knowledgeable and devout Catholic.

But the painful question, the question I shudder to face, is this: How much do I practice prayer or asceticism? If I am honest, the only answer is not nearly as much as I read about them. My knowledge of these disciplines remains largely theoretical, shallow, and abstract.

Avoiding Delusion

This equation of knowledge with piety is a mistake. It is the same delusion as the pretend karate master.

So how do we avoid delusion? “Be doers of the word,” exhorts St. James, “and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

St. Francis de Sales echoes this counsel: “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.”

The only way to avoid this delusion is to continually practice what we know. Doing so may result in failure, missteps, discouragement, and trials. It is certainly always safer to dwell in the realm of theory. But practice, with all its risks, is the only real way to be a Christian.

Hearing and Keeping

I am convinced there will be many in the kingdom of God who lacked the formal knowledge of books and catechisms, but who kept the commandments and loved God and their neighbor. I also believe there are many who possess great theological knowledge and who are considered spiritual masters, but who fail to reach the kingdom because they never progress beyond the realm of theory.

Christianity is not a formula to be believed. It is a way of life to be lived. It is not an intellectual castle in the clouds. It is inextricably linked to the choices we make every day, to the messiness of ordinary life. The Gospel makes it clear that the entrance exam to heaven will not be a theological quiz, but a test of works. We will give account not for what we knew, but rather what we did.

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” 

Sam Guzman


Don’t Miss a Thing

Subscribe to get email notifications of new posts and special offers PLUS a St. Joseph digital poster.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



Reader Interactions


  1. Robyn D says

    Well said, Sam. So much easier to live in our heads than in the real world. Knowing how powerful the daily rosary or daily Mass is, is fine. But getting there, saying it, is where it happens.

  2. J. Rocha. says

    Up until Vatican II you could only be considered a Catholic if you believed in all the Dogmas of the Catholic Faith. The Dogmas of the Catholic Faith are the objective spiritual truths taught by Our Lord to the Apostles which were carefully preserved and valiantly defended by Holy Men for almost 2000 years. These dogmas were refined but never changed with the appearance of each new heresy.
    At Vatican II the Dogmas of the Church concerning salvation were abandoned. These dogmas were that to be saved you need to be baptised with water and the Holy Ghost, you need to believe in the Catholic Faith i.e. the Dogmas and to belong to the Catholic Church. The post-Vatican II Church is heretical as are the FFSPX FFSPX etc which all defend the heresy of baptism of Desire and salvation by invincible ignorance. The sedevacantistas are heretical in their Puritanism which is a negation of the Dogma of the Faith that God created a good world.
    St. Vincent of Lerins wrote in his Commotorium that the only option for Good Catholics in a time of theological confusion was to stick to the earliest teachings that the whole Church agreed on and that certainly is the doctrine of EENS or outside the Church there is no salvation as exemplified by the Athanasian Creed and various Papal Bulls . The most comprehensive being Cantate Domino
    of 1492 by Pope Eugene IV.

  3. Chad Wotherspoon says

    Thanks for this, Sam

    I find it can be so much easier to make the comfortable choices each day and much harder to make the daily choices that are more loving. What a great nudge…to diligently practice ‘doing’ the core daily moves of love, like a serious ninja would.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *