The funeral Mass was about to begin. Friends and acquaintances of the deceased and of his family sat in pews behind or to the side of the area where the rather large family sat. Many of those paying their respects—family and non-family alike—were somewhat familiar with the Rite of Christian Burial. They were cradle Catholics, after all, but a good number no longer identified themselves as Catholic. Here they were, in church again, somewhat uncertain of the rubrics for the faithful. When do we stand, sit and kneel? When do we respond to the priest’s prayers? Some felt a bit uneasy, perhaps, with the rituals. Beyond that, though, a bigger question looms. Would they “come home” to the Church before their time here is up? If not, why not? What keeps them away?
Time to Come Home
Life is short. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the obituary section of your local newspaper. On any given day, you’ll see notices for people of all ages, ranging from infants through great-grandparents. We don’t know when we’ll be called to leave this life. It could be today or tomorrow, or it could be months to years from now. What’s important is the nature of our relationship with God when our time is up. What kind of relationship do we, and our fallen away friends and family, have with Him and His Church when the day comes? Will the fallen away “come home” before then?
What’s It Going to Take to Come Home?
We each probably know far too many people who no longer participate in our rich Catholic faith. Some of them still believe in God, but do not participate in Mass or the sacraments. Some of these have drifted away to non-Catholic churches. Others simply have drifted away from any practice of faith. Each has his or her own reasons for doing so. Nevertheless, it’s sad to see so many who no longer receive Jesus in Communion. It is sad to see how many are missing out on the joy and peace that only God can give. Likewise, I am concerned on their behalf when I think about how some have closed themselves off to the graces provided by the sacraments Jesus gave for our salvation. What might it take for them to “come home” to the Church that Christ founded?
An Obstacle on the Path to Come Home
Many of us never really learned our faith well enough to appreciate it for the wonderful gift that it is. Many don’t understand the truth of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That is, they don’t understand that, when we receive Communion, it truly is Jesus that we actually receive. If someone really believed and understood that, why would they not want to participate in the faith? Poor catechesis—inadequate training in the faith—is part of the problem here. This includes lack of preaching on the topic to help people understand the infinite value proposition that Jesus gives us.
Something Someone Did
The Church comprises various groups—ordained and lay alike—of fallible human beings. Some have left the Church because of some person or persons within the Church. None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Admittedly, some of us seemingly make far more than our share of mistakes. At the same time, though, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and He promised us that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Each of its members are called to moral perfection. Unfortunately, you can look far and wide and not find true human, moral perfection except in the lives of the saints, who worked very hard to overcome their sinful habits and perfections.
Certain people have been deeply offended or hurt by someone in the Church. I won’t ignore or trivialize the scandals of the last two decades. Justice will be served, one way or another, yet the hurts still exist. However, to lump together everyone and everything in the Church, and turn our backs on the Church that Christ founded does not seem reasonable either. The overwhelming majority of clergy and laity are people who want to know and love God more deeply, and bring others to Him.
Even at a less significant level, we may have had a squabble with a pastor or member of the parish hierarchy over something in the past. Maybe we left over that, or over a series of such incidents. Is that really a good reason to stay away from the Church? God placed that person in our path for a reason. We might benefit from prayerful discernment and discussion with a spiritual director or confessor of what that reason was.
Beefs with Beliefs
Some fallen away Catholics have a beef with what they believe the Church teaches. As Venerable Fulton Sheen said,
There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church…
Because of misunderstandings, some people keep the Church at arm’s length. Asking someone who knows what the Church really teaches, and why, might yield some pleasantly surprising answers. With today’s technology and proliferation of orthodox Catholic websites, getting good answers is easier than ever before. EWTN.com and Catholic Answers are just two such sources we can use to help in our works of mercy as we instruct others and educate ourselves.
The Culture Keeps People from Coming Home
The culture tells us it’s all about fulfilling our every desire, seeking pleasure and happiness here and now. The ads tell us that we are now the source and end of all our efforts. If we’ve bought into that, we’ve just made ourselves little gods. Not a good thing to do, no matter which church community one heads to on Sundays. Unfortunately, the siren call of the secular world may seem more attractive than imitating Christ. But imitating Christ’s love, His obedience to the Father and His humility will open us up to the graces of God. Being open to God, to union with Him, is what it’s all about.
Blaise Paschal referred to a vacuum created in our hearts that only God can fill:
…What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself. He only is our true good… – Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)
St. Augustine of Hippo says it more succinctly, “…for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You…” The more we seek worldly pleasures, the more we need to experience them to get the same high. It’s a never-ending treadmill we get on, and it does not satisfy. Only God can do that. He can do it fully, and completely, through His Church.
It Really Is Time to Come Home
Why don’t more people “come home?” For some, it may be a matter of not knowing where to start, or feeling that too much “water has gone under the bridge.” They may feel like the life they’ve lived disqualifies them for a new path forward. The beauty of our Catholic faith is that no one will be refused admittance to the banquet. No sin or life of sin is too great to be forgiven with a good Confession to a priest.
Jesus is calling each one of us. Are we going to open the door for Him? Will we take advantage of the wonderful, freeing nature of His Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore and replenish our relationship with Him? We just need to contact the nearest parish and ask to speak to one of the priests or deacons to kick things off. It really can be that simple.
Consider Yourself Asked
It amazes me how often I hear of people who, when asked why they didn’t join the Church, or come back sooner, say “Nobody asked.” No one asked! Perhaps this was because someone didn’t feel comfortable asking that person to “come and see” as Jesus tells His first disciples. Maybe no one asked because they just assumed he or she was not interested.
Well, consider yourself “asked.” Come and see what the Church Jesus founded has to offer you. Don’t delay—we know neither the time nor the day. Open wide the door to your heart for Jesus. Let Him change your life through His Church and its sacraments.