For the faithful and devoted Catholic, it is a heavy burden when a family member rejects their Catholic faith and “leaves” the Catholic Church. It hurts deeply when the faith, which is the very core and foundation of one’s life, is scorned and disregarded.
To ease the pain, some offer what they believe is helpful advice like, “It doesn’t matter what church they attend as long as they go to church.” Others say, “As long as they live a good life, God will be merciful to them.” Or, “God doesn’t judge them, nor should we.” This advice is meant to offer solace and comfort, but deep down we know it is not of God.
Rejecting the Catholic Faith is a grave matter, for in rejecting the Body of Christ, the Church, one is also rejecting Jesus Christ, who is its Head (c.f. Colossians 1:18). The Church is very clear in Her teaching on this matter. In the document
of the Second Vatican Council, we read, “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ would refuse to enter or remain in it, could not be saved” (#14). Indeed, we should fear for loved ones who have left the Church; they may lose God for all eternity. But, do not lose hope, for there are paths back to the Church for those who have strayed from the fold and we can assist with this journey home.
First, most people who have left the Catholic Church do not know what they left behind. Because of poor catechesis, the harmful influence of the secular culture in which we live, the forceful proselytizing of religious sects, a rebellious stage of life, or for a whole host of other reasons, some Catholics have rejected the Catholic faith and its teachings. But did they understand
they rejected? When you question lapsed Catholics about the Catholic faith, you come to realize their ignorance of the faith or the mischaracterizations of the faith, which they have embraced. They have bought into the lies of the “evil one” and we need to counter error with the truth. Towards this end, invite them to adult faith formation classes or RCIA in your parish, encourage them to listen to Catholic Radio or watch EWTN on television, share a great Catholic resource with them from your personal or parish library, invite them to a Catholic retreat, have them speak with your pastor, invite them to the Holy Mass, or welcome them to a Catholic Bible study. Those who left the Church do not understand what they left behind; it is your duty to enlighten them. Don’t fret about this seemingly daunting task because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will be with you. The work is His; you are merely an instrument.
Second, we must believe in the power of God’s grace to bring people back to the Church. Technically, they never really “left” because you can’t undo your baptism. Once you have been indelibly marked by Jesus Christ in the sacrament of baptism, you are forever His. As Jesus reminds us through the Prophet Isaiah, “I will never forget you my people. See, upon the palm of my hands, I have written your name” (15-16). Through fervent prayer, the offering of Mass intentions, and personal sacrifices, we beg God to renew the grace of baptism, with its accompanying renewed love for the Church, in those who are away from the Body of Christ. Never doubt that this worthy prayer intention will go unanswered, even if someone is away from the Church for years or even decades. Sadly, you may approach your death with the sorrow of knowing that someone you love is still away from the Church. But, take heart, for you will continue praying for them from heaven, where your prayers are even more powerful before the Throne of the Lamb. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, we want to spend all of eternity doing good for souls on earth, including the souls of our family members who are away from Jesus Christ and the Church.
Indeed, we are greatly saddened when someone we love abandons the Catholic faith; it is our life. Rightly so, we are worried about the possible loss of salvation in heaven for them. Yet, time and time again, Jesus reminded His disciples, “Be not afraid.” We need to listen to this advice as well. Trust that sound Catholic teaching and fervent prayers can do great things in the souls of those who have wandered from the fold. Never give up on the lost sheep; the Good Shepherd will always lead them home.
Benz is pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Stanley and St. Ann in Berthhold.
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