Friday, December 09, 2016 - Updated: 9:02 AM
QUESTION: When someone says that they want “to come back to the Catholic Church,” how does that happen?
ANSWER: How a person returns to the practice of the Catholic faith usually depends on how and why they stopped doing so. It might be helpful to explore some possible reasons.
Some people actually stop practicing the faith because they know too little about it. They stopped learning about their faith right after confirmation (usually in eighth grade). Then, in college as young adults, they faced serious questions and assumed that, since they do not know the answers, the Catholic Church must not have them either, so they walk away.
For such Catholics, it might be important to suggest a discussion with a priest, deacon or pastoral minister in a parish. They might find answers to those difficult questions in a few conversations or they might be directed to adult education programs that will open new doors to understanding the faith. They might also participate in a parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.
Some leave the church because they believe it is filled with hypocrites who talk a good game but don’t live one. They leave the church in search of authentic people who will better live what they believe. Often enough they join other faith communities only to find that they too are human and imperfect. For them, discussion might also be helpful to focus on being able to maintain ideals despite the human flaws of those who hand them on.
Others leave the Catholic Church because they disagree with some teaching. Hopefully, a dialogue with someone with a firm grounding in Catholic theology will also shed light on the ways in which this teaching might be better understood. It might also be helpful to spend time with faith-filled Catholics who may or may not have struggled with those same teachings, but find that with understanding, prayer and patience the teachings of the church can be a powerful guide to personal peace.
There are others who no longer practice the Catholic faith simply because they lost the energy to do so. Living the faith, like anything worthwhile, requires effort. If one is unwilling to exert such effort, the Catholic faith soon becomes just a memory. For some, a personal challenge or tragedy may stretch them beyond what they can normally handle, and they look for help. They often find the church as a place where their faith can be recovered.
In many people finding a home in a Catholic parish is the best first step. Worshipping there, hearing the Word proclaimed and seeing faith manifested in others prepares them for the next step.
That step is one of re-entry into the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. That is actually what is intended by the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not only a confession of sin but an encounter with Christ through the ministry of the church that provides healing and hope. It can be a new beginning in a relationship with Christ, one nourished by the word of God and the other sacraments; one lived out in a community of faith with and for others.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.