Blog # 389 Former Catholics
There has always been an element of sadness for me in the experience of meeting someone who tells me they "used to be Catholic" or was "raised Catholic" and now attend some other church or none. My sadness is not that I feel the particular person I have met is 'going to Hell' or even is in sin. I have no way of judging or verifying this, and I have been told by Jesus not to try, because I have no such right. Such knowledge and judgment belong to God alone.
Why, then, would I be sad? Some of these people I met at an airport or through a letter from a friend in a city far away. Their leaving the Catholic Church and going to another had no direct effect upon the everyday life of the parish where I was Pastor at the time, so I had no reason to be sad on that score.
Other inactive or 'former' Catholics I met locally in the parish, at such places as the grocery store, the Post Office, or while putting gas in my car. Had they remained active members of the parish they would have added to our small number as we gathered each Sunday for worship. Their presence would be a support for each of us in our faith, telling us by their presence what we do is worth their time and energy, is at least as valuable as whatever else they could be doing with their life each Sunday morning. We would be encouraged to continue our effort and struggle to seek find and love the Lord and to overcome whatever obstacles we encountered in our effort and struggle. Without them, we are less, and it is more difficult for us to be faithful and to grow in holiness. This would seem reason enough for me to be sad.
But an additional reason comes from an awareness the quality of our prayer and worship is lessened by their absence. Some of them are blessed with a singing voice. There might even be enough of them to make a choir. The sounds we sent to the Lord in our worship would be more beautiful because of them. Those who could not perhaps sing very well would increase the volume and substance of our vocal prayers and response to the liturgical readings each week. Some would have other talents to contribute to the task of making our worship more worthy of the Lord. Some would bring flowers, some would make a banner, some would welcome visitors or help in some other waay to make our worship better thsan it could be without them.
Each of them has a unique life story, unique experience of prayer, unique joy, sorrow, struggle, and accomplishmenets. All of this would be added to our own as we gathered each week and offered ourselves in grateful love to God in worship. Witout them our individual personal love for God need not be less, but the quality of our common expression of that love is diminished. It is easy to see this as a significant part of the reason I was sad when I met someone locally who had left the Catholic Church,
Other reasons come to mind. Our Religious Ed Programs, both for adults and for chiddren, could not be as good witout the participation of those who had left the Church. Whatever we could hope to accomplish through social or recreational experiences, the help we could give to the poor, the inspiration and support we might hope to be for those who were still withot faith was less. The youth who were growing up wounded by the influence of drugs, alcohol, and distorted sex, selfishness, and violence all had lsss hope because we had less prayer and infuence through the absence among us of inactive and former Catholics. This also made me sad.
There is still another reason that relates in some way to all that I have written here, to the quality of our worshop, the support we give one another, the programs we can produce and enjoy, and the help and inspiration we could make available to the community around us. This reason focuses upon the peresons themselves who have left. Some of them I feel sure did so without sin, or even as an expression of virtue. This would be possible only if they did not know and experience our Catholic faith as it could and should be experienced.
They may have known what the Catholic Chrch looks like , but not its history, theology, or what it is today. They may have known Catholic words but not the full meanng of the words. Some have told me how they used to be altar boys. The danger was in knowing how to serve Mass and not knowing how to offer Mass, when to bow without knowing why. Without knowing and experiencing the whole truth about the reality of the Catholic Church we could find a substitute or something that seems to be better. I do not think we could do this without sin if we knew and experienced the real Catholic Church.
Part of that reality is the celebration of the life death and resurrection of Jesus each liturgical year. The presence of God in Jesus is easily seen in the experience of Peter, Mary, the Apostles and the early Church. But the reality of that same presence of God in Jesus is to be experienced in us by means of the Sacraments and Gospel stories. Even unbelivers can read the Bible. The further realiy is, by faith, Jesus lives dies and rises again in us who believe.
How sad it is when people do not know and experience this, and think they find a substitute and something better, for whatever reason.