Most of you have probably met Catholics who have fallen away from the Church. Frequently, they began to reject Catholicism by becoming angry with a priest, or becoming upset by money handling in the Church, or any of a hundred other reasons.
I've talked twice with J., an old man (my age!), and he told me today that he is a fallen-away Catholic. He is disgusted by the priests' sexual scandals of the past few years, but I concluded he left the Church a long time before the scandals made the headlines. J. added that he wasn't sure he now believed everything the Church teaches (perhaps another indication that his departure is of some duration). Yet he noted that he could never join another church because he would always consider himself a Catholic. Finally, J. mentioned that if a priest cousin from another area were to be in Kansas City, he would go to Mass every Sunday to hear his excellent sermons!
Whatever the reason (excuse!) for losing his faith, J.'s rejection of the Church MAY have begun, as so often happens, by rejecting the 6th and 9th Commandments. It is so difficult to admit that one is sinning when it feels so good and seems so right!
There are a lot of arguments to justify sinful sexual behaviors. "It's my nature and only natural to do it." "No one is being hurt." "This is such a small sin in comparison to the sin of hatred." "No one can obey these commandments, so why even try." "Jesus really didn't mean what He said." After sufficiently ruminating over different variations of these excuses, a person's conscience becomes twisted, he concludes the Church is wrong, and he leaves the Church.
Sometimes, God's grace is restored and a person become aware of the spiritual battle for his soul that is inherent in sexual temptations. He realizes he is excusing his sins, but God isn't! When he admits "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault", and asks for God's mercy, he can begin to be truly repentant.
Sexual temptations and falling into sins make a person uncomfortably aware of his fallibility--his lack of strength. A person cannot rely on his own strength in repelling this kind of sin. In fact, the Church teaches we must always run away from a sexual temptation; we must never stop and consider the temptation even in order to fight it.
Sexual sins can become the occasion for the virtue of humility--I blew it again, God! Only when we are so humble that we admit we are powerless without God, can His grace enter to change a life. A wise person recognizes this for the remainder of his time on earth.
The only persons represented in the four Gospels who really pleased Jesus Christ were repentant sinners. First was the man in the parable who stayed in the back of the temple, with his eyes cast down and confessing he was unworthy. Second was the man who told Jesus, "I am not worthy that Thou should come unto my roof; but say the word and my servant will be healed." Third was St. Dismas who hung on the cross next to Jesus and who admitted he deserved his crucifixion because of his crimes, but nevertheless, begged Jesus in a great act of faith to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus' response was that "This day you will be with me in paradise." Quite a reward after a man's bad life, but one that was entirely mitigated by acknowledging personal sins and pleading for mercy from Jesus!
When I was young, my parents lived next door to Mr. & Mrs. M. They were Catholics who had rejected the Church's teaching on the permanence of marriage, and their "marriage" was not true in the sight of God. For many years, they lived together as man and wife. Yet I always saw them at Sunday Mass where they sat in a middle pew on the left side of the Church, even though they never received Holy Communion. On Thursday evenings, we attended Novena devotions and Mr. & Mrs. M also were always there.
I asked my Mother about their situation, and was told Mr. & Mrs. M. were living in sin, but could find no way out of their situation because of a child they both needed to care for. The priest was gentle, but firm, in saying they were to hope in God's mercy by otherwise living a good life. The pastor encouraged the couple to come to him in the confessional where he would encourage them and guide them in spiritual practices and good works. However, their sins were never able to be forgiven because they continued to live together.
Many years later, Mr. & Mrs. M began to receive Holy Communion, and I asked Mother what had happened. She answered they were now old and the pastor had accepted the practicality of their desire to live together in the same house, but only as brother and sister.
Both Mr. & Mrs. M were kind and generous people. Mrs. M took care of her sick and very difficult-to-care-for mother for several years before the mother died. My own Mother thought Mrs. M behaved as a saint in this long trial. Mr. M was always first to help his neighbors, and the whole neighborhood missed them when they died. Both Mr. & Mrs M. left this world and were buried in full communion with the Church, even though their original spouses still lived. God's mercy prevailed for poor, humble, and repentant sinners!