By Anne Costa
In the course of my everyday travels over the past few months I’ve run into more than a few “Used-to-Be Catholics”. Many of them offer this self-descriptive title on their own; some with a hint of nostalgia in their voice, others with a not so hidden hint of anger. Some of them now belong to other churches, but most of them do not belong to any church at all, preferring to “go it alone” in the religion department.
I know because I used to be one of those “Used-to-Be Catholics” and it’s brutal out there. Trying to navigate through all of the cultural clutter and stay balanced along the slippery slope of relativism is a mind numbing, spirit crushing experience, to say the least. While tip-toeing through the minefields of muddled truths and dodging the ruins of collapsing morals and dilapidated social institutions, one can lose one’s soul without even knowing it. That’s why when I meet those used-to-be Catholics, I immediately begin to pray for their safe return home.
It’s no coincidence that I am using metaphors of war as I write this article for we are truly in a battle for Catholic souls. It isn’t enough for those of us who, by God’s mercy and grace, found our way back to Holy Mother Church or for those of us who never left, to turn our heads and hearts from those who are still searching or wandering lost in the desert lands of the New Age of some other distraction. We must take spiritual and physical action to bring those souls back home.
It’s no secret that many who have left have good reasons for doing so. Some have been betrayed, hurt, or led astray by the very ones entrusted with their faith formation. Others have left out of sheer neglect, genuine confusion, or simple ignorance of what they were walking away from. But no matter how good the reason, no real good can come from it because whatever they encounter out there will be second- rate at best and more likely soul stealing in the end.
So what about you? Do you have a sense of urgency in your heart for your “fallen-away” brethren? Do you wonder what you can do to bring them back to the fullness of the Truth that is the Catholic faith? Your greatest evangelism “weapon” in this war is to live a fully-engaged Catholic life. By that I mean not to cut corners or apologize for the “rigidity” of the Church, but to delight in and celebrate the clarity and perfection of the wisdom and Truth set forth by the teachings of the Catholic Church. It means not to live out a lukewarm faith or to try to “pass” in the secular culture so as not to threaten or alienate anybody, but to wear your Catholic heart proudly on your sleeve and boldly carry the Bread of life into the mainstream of your own life to feed the spiritually starved and the perpetually thirsty ones who have lost their way.
In this jubilee year of St. Paul, we have before us an open invitation and a timely challenge: to do what St. Paul did; that is preach Christ, not so much by what we say, but by what we do and who we are. Pope Benedict put it this way – that in the example of St. Paul, we are called to “place Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word” (The Apostles, Pope Benedict XVI).
Remembering what it was like to be a “Used-to-Be Catholic” is a mighty motivator. Remembering that there are people out there who have never really met or known Jesus in the Eucharist or who have forgotten or experienced a crisis of faith that led them to leave Him might be the motivation that you need to bring them home. Let this year of St. Paul be a year of welcoming back our brothers and sisters so that they may be “anxious about nothing” and experience the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:6,7). With our prayers and our hearts, let us welcome them back with open arms!