Sometimes people who were baptized Roman Catholic find themselves not too engaged with their faith or with the Church community. Some say they are no longer Catholic, others say they are but aren’t too involved in terms of their time and energy (“inactive Catholics”). Often this comes from disillusionment, a bad personal experience or a problem they personally have with either a teaching or practice of the church. Or it could be that they’ve done something that they believe puts them outside of the Church community.
You might say or hear something like this in conversation:
“I was raised Catholic, but am not practicing”
“I believe most of what the Catholic Church teaches, but I have a problem with…” (fill in the blank), “so I pretty much left the Church.”
Or maybe this:
“I’m Catholic, but I don’t go to Mass very often.”
“I think of myself as Catholic, but why don’t they get with the times?”
“I got married in the Church and will raise my kids Catholic when we start a family, but we just don’t go to Mass very often.”
One of my relatives, who’s a Jesuit priest, was once in Rome and chatting with a taxi driver there about life while en route to his destination. “Where do you go to church?” our American priest asked. “Padre, sono Cattolico, non sono fanatico!” – “Father, I’m a Catholic, not a fanatic!” replied the driver. Some of our not-too-adherant Catholics here in the U.S. might feel the same way.
There are various levels of engagement or disengagement with the Church and faith. Sometimes the disaffection is temporary and at other times it’s permanent or semi-permanent (such as with calling a priest only when death is near). There are people who are Catholic but perhaps on the threshold. Do we notice them and invite them to come all the way in?
While the door is always wide open and the Catholic faith community would like to make everyone feel welcome and invited to come back, as a Church community we aren’t always very good at outreach to our own who may need to feel more personally cared about.
So I want to let you know, or have you let your friend who’s on that threshold know, there are resources to help take those steps. You and they are invited all the way in.
In many parishes around the U.S., there exists a program for Catholics who want to “take another look” at the Church, its beliefs and practices. In some places it’s a faith sharing group called Returning Catholics. The website for the Archdiocese of San Francisco lists some places not too far from Silicon Valley where these Returning Catholics groups are active. Here in the South Bay, it’s not run or organized on a diocesan basis, apparently. Most parishes seem to run it from time to time, though, and I have seen notices about it in my own home parish. So if you’re looking for such a group, please call your nearest Catholic parish and ask for information on when it’s offered again either there or in the nearby area (the deanery). (I think it would be great for the diocese to make this more visible and hope that it will be, down the road.)
For those not ready to go to a meeting and talk with others in the same boat, there are a ton of resources online. One of my favorites is the website called Busted Halo.
Or if you have questions and just want to chat one-on-one with a priest or pastoral associate, you can call your local parish and ask to have a meeting to discuss your concerns and getting reintegrated.
One of the beautiful, wonderful things about being Catholic is the diversity of ways people express and grow their faith. For some, maybe those first steps back will not be with a conversation about the issues at hand that caused the alienation, but perhaps engagement through action – helping the poor, joining a group that meets for prayer or for to do good work. Sometimes what is first needed is a sense of belonging with a smaller group, like a men’s bible study, a marriage encounter or a teen youth group. There are many groups for prayer and service. Find your local parish and see what’s offered. And if you don’t find something there, check the nearby ones. Every parish is a little different. Or call the Church office near you to see how you can get reacquainted. The door’s open!
If you are not one of the disaffected but instead would like to be part of the reintegration effort, your help is needed! Here’s a resource for you, care of Paulist Press: