This year, like every year, we will see strange faces on Christmas. Some of those folks will be from far away, visiting friends and family. Others live nearby, maybe living closer to the church than we do, but strangers to us. They are the Christmas and Easter Only (CEO) subset of fallen-away Catholics.
While we don’t see them often, they are our brothers and sisters. They are members of our Catholic family who are drawn to the Church yet often harbor “issues.” They are like the brother who only comes home for Thanksgiving but avoids us the rest of the year. We care about them and we miss them.
Then too, we will also come across others who have fallen-away and will not even step foot into the church on Christmas. We love them all and want what’s best for them. Their boycott of the Church is harmful to them and we hate to see this self-destructive pride that has taken hold.
This is a wonderful time to engage our family and neighbors, to invite them back, to tell them they are important to God and to us. If someone pushed them away doing or failing to do something in the name of the Church, we should apologize for it (even if that person was right, pastorally they failed). Flawed as it is, the Church is their surest path.
Katie Warner offers some helpful perspective in her recent piece for the National Catholic Register:
But perhaps the most-shared feeling or expression in the many correspondences I have fielded over the years is this: Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.
They want to know that someone cares that they left. They want to know that someone not only notices their absence, but also is actually saddened, or at least affected by it. Sadly, many, if not most, of these inactive Catholics have never found anyone to express this concern to them.
So I make an effort to tell fallen-away Catholics who reach out to Catholics Come Home that they are missed, and their brothers and sisters in Christ – including me – want them home and that their Heavenly Father in particular wants them to again be a part of the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded.
As a unity in the Body of Christ, a living organism, we aren’t the same without them, and we care that they are away.
It never ceases to amaze me how even the seemingly hardest of hearts in an initial correspondence can be turned around after hearing that someone, anyone, cares about them and about their leaving the barque of St. Peter.
I’ve been moved to tears more times than I can count by people who seemed bent on spewing their rage toward the Church and have then responded to my reply with words like, “Thank you for answering. You are the first person to respond to me – and to care.” Some of these people have admitted attempting to reach out to other people or organizations, seeking a listening ear or an extended hand of welcome, only to be further disappointed by the fact that not only did they exit the Church without a single person knowing that they had gone, but they also couldn’t find anyone to help them explore the possibility of returning.
So many of our fallen-away family, friends, co-workers, relatives, neighbors and even strangers whom God puts in our path are desperately wanting to know that they are missed. Many just need to hear it from one person — and that one person can be you.
Read the whole piece: The No. 1 Thing I’ve Learned From Talking With Fallen-Away Catholics.