Aug 3, 2007

Fallen-Away Catholics

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!


Alison said...

That is really a great story. I love it because it is an example of what Pope John Paul II suggested in his second encyclical on Reconciliation and Penance. The priest and the couple involved are a concrete example of what he outlines for such a hard case. Your post actually made me go re-read the encyclical after many years of it sitting on the shelf.
I love where JPII describes the two principles. The first, "whereby the Church as the continuer in history of Christ's presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live; and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick, ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him." He goes on to say with the other principle of "truth and consistnecy, where by the Chruch does not agree to call good evil and evil good . . .The Chruch can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the Divine Mercy by otherways, not however through the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, unil such time as they have attained the requred dispositions."
You were blessed with a wise priest in your parish.

Christopher said...

Thanks for this Post
Its just what I needed today

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for a beautiful story. Would you please answer/clarify a few questions I have concerning Mr. & Mrs. M.

1. When you say that their original spouses were both living, are you saying that both Mr. M and Mrs. M were divorced?

2. Now that they are divorced and living together, are they not able to marry because they were not both able to get their previous marriage annulled by the Catholic Church?

If I have #1 and #2 understood correctly, I think I understand their situation. That indeed is a difficult life to lead. And as your previous commenters have pointed out, it is a story that highlights the beauty of Pope John Paul II's encyclical on Reconciliation and Penance (Raeconciliatio Et Paenitentia).

As you yourself have done in your story, though, I would also like to highlight the fact that this couple *responded* to the Catholic Church's teachings on their situation, and to their priest's teachings on their situation.

So often it is the case that people say that they don't want to involve the Catholic Church into their situation at home; or that the Catholic Church has no business passing judgement on their relationship with their spouse. The Catholic Church is here to help us with our salvation; and its Sacraments are the Keys to Heaven -- no matter what our situation in life happens to be.

So, I applaud Mr. & Mrs. M! They are indeed saints for our times.


Janet Nichols Lynch said...

I encourage you all to read my new novel CHEST PAINS. Middle-aged music professor Gordon Clay thinks he has heart problems, when in reality he is suffering a crisis of faith. He is a fallen-away nonbeliever, while his student Cecilia, a marathon-running nun, is an ardent convert. Writing the novel helped me work through my thoughts and feelings about my Catholic childhood and doubting adulthood. I’ve included a stigmata, something that has held my fascination my entire life and an unique way to get blood on the pate! Library Journal calls my novel “promising...light-hearted...memorable.” I’d like to know what you think. --Janet Nichols Lynch

Anonymous said...

I don't think people lose their Faith in God. They lose their religion. I worked for the church for 35 years and I have lost my religion and with what is going on there now, I don't think I'll find my religion anytime soon.

Charlie Courtois said...

I found your site because I want to create a new Apostolate involving unhealed,hurt,confused,
damaged,and fallen-away Catholics.

Your story, here, of forgiveness is truly a model of what Christ taught while here on earth.

I, myself, am a "Revert" who left the church after the eighth grade in Catholic School. I lived a secular life without having God in it. In 2006 my Methodist wife wanted to become a Catholic, so she and I attended R.C.I.A and returned home. I will be 75 this August.

Father was kind, I was to confess my sins from the time I joined the Methodist Church which was about 10 years before. So,the 47 years of having turned away from God was forgiven. That's forgiveness!

Now it's my time to give back to our Lord what I received by helping others find their way back home, to Rome.

Thank you for your effort here to to save some more of the lost sheep.

Charlie Courtois

Anonymous said...

"No one is being hurt." - you have destroyed other people lives forever, you bastards!

C Torres