The Catholic Church is bigger than ever. In some areas of the world it is growing rapidly. Here in the southern US, the Protestant Bible Belt, we are flourishing.
I mentioned back in June, a project of mine to visit 1 different church per week for daily Mass. Some friends sometimes tag along too (Tony, Daryl, Tom, Joe, Carol, Helen, Gema and my wife). So far I have visited 23 and have 20 more on my schedule, all within driving distance in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Three things demographically jump out: that is a lot of parishes, they tend to be large, and they are quite new – many built or rebuilt in the last decade or two.
For all of our growth, we know there are Catholics here in Georgia who rarely or never attend Mass or receive the sacraments. We have embarked on a program with the excellent Catholics Come Home.org apostolate to reach out to them.
Way up in Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas Tobin is also reaching out to who he calls “inactive Catholics.”
Did you leave the Church because you disagree with some of the Church’s teachings and practices; or because you found it boring and “didn’t get anything out of it”; or because someone in the Church offended you or disappointed you; or because you just got a little complacent, spiritually lazy, in the fulfillment of your obligations? Let’s look at each of these reasons.
If you left the Church because you disagree with the fundamental teachings of the Church I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you. The essential teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals aren’t negotiable – they weren’t made up arbitrarily by human beings but, in fact, were given to us by Christ. They can’t be changed, even if they’re unpopular or difficult to live with. I hope that you’ll take some time to really understand what the Church teaches and why. Sometimes, we find, good folks get bad information and that leads to confusion and then alienation.
If you left the Church because you found it to be boring and “didn’t get anything out of it,” well, I understand. Sometimes, it’s true, leaders of the Church haven’t fed the flock very well – sometimes we haven’t provided sound and challenging teaching and preaching, and sometimes our worship has been banal and bland. Perhaps we haven’t been very kind or welcoming. I apologize for that; we can and should do better.
On the other hand, when you attend Mass it shouldn’t be all about you – the focus is God! You should attend Mass to give, as well as receive – to worship the Lord, to ask forgiveness of your sins, to thank Him for His gifts and to pray for others. And for Catholics the most important reason to attend Mass is to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life. You can’t do that anywhere else!
If you left the Church because another member of the Church offended or disappointed you, I’m truly sorry for that offense and in the name of the Church I sincerely apologize. I hope you’ll forgive us and give us another chance. Members of the Church – including priests and bishops – are completely human. Sometimes we say things and do things that are totally unacceptable, even immoral. But let’s face it – we belong to a community of sinners – that’s why we begin every Mass by calling to mind our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness. The virtue of forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life – we all need to seek and grant forgiveness now and then.
Finally, if you left the Church because of your own spiritual laziness – complacency – I guess the ball’s in your court. I can only encourage you to start over – to think about your relationship with God and try to understand how important the Church is in helping you fulfill your God-given potential and, more importantly, helping you achieve eternal life.
You see, the Church isn’t just another human organization, some sort of social club. We believe that the Church has divine elements – that it was founded by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. You need the Church – you need the teachings of the Church, the life-giving sacraments of the Church, and the support of a community that shares your faith and values. But the Church also needs you – we need the gifts of your time and talent, your faith and commitment. The Church has an awful lot to offer you, but if in fact we’ve been imperfect fulfilling our mission, in serving the Lord and caring for one another, perhaps you can help us to do better.
Back here in Georgia, our Catholics Come Home campaign is well under way. There are many videos online that are part of it. Of those, there are testimonials of Catholics from local parishes who have returned home. Here are some moving examples: