I think of those, especially the young, who have left the Church. Some that I know, so many that I don’t. Many come from families built on solid Catholic Christian foundations. And it breaks my heart that they’re leaving the Church. These are not errant deviants. They’re not idiots or self-indulgent Millennials or money-mongering thirty- and forty-year-olds. These are good people, with good hearts, who want to be happy and do good for others.
But I think that maybe they’ve never seen what the Church really is. How real and very relevant it can be for them in their lives.
Maybe some have been through hard times with their families so they doubt everything. Maybe others see the religion of their parents intricately tied in to politics. They’ve left home, gone to college, graduated, entered a different world and found their own political views and assume they aren’t compatible with the Church (they might be surprised). They have likely given away their very selves by becoming sexually active, which in today’s culture is almost a given. Culture says, as we well know, that to stand strong and wait till marriage is completely absurd and oh-so-1950’s. So they’ve given away so many parts of their soul, because that is what is expected – that is ‘dating’ – they don’t even recognize what is left. They may even think that they’re automatically ‘excommunicated’ by default. Some may have doubts (which everyone has, I tell you) but never had place to safely voice them or seek out answers. So they end up feeling faith-less, when really they’re just seeking out the Mystery. They may very well be disenchanted by what they see around them in the ‘real’ world. People and work-places full of greed and selfishness. It’s hard to keep hope in environments like that. They might keep going to Mass while they’re still home, but once they’ve left, they don’t go back.
For years, this has caused an ache in my soul. My heart has longed for them, these lost brothers and sisters. Maybe it is Jesus’ heart longing in mine. I want to gather them all up – all tens of millions of them – and sit them on my couch with a cup of tea and tell them that they DO have a place. That this happiness they are looking for has been waiting for them the whole time. That the Church is huge and vibrant and diverse enough to encompass all of them. If they want to march for social justice action or if they want to be a monk in a craggy cave. If they long for a passionate debate or want to serve the poor in a soup kitchen. If they want to fall into meditation on a mountain top or settle in a pew in front of a monstrance. If they are intellectual, seeking philosophical answers and treaties, or if they long to just sit and ponder and write poetry. If you want southern evangelical, mystic monk, or a heavily vested gilded incensed liturgical experience. We have it all for you. This Church is big enough for us all. Let me be your guide.
The world is not as incongruous with the Church as you might think. I promise you that there is not an issue you can bring up or a situation you can pose that the Church hasn’t considered and pondered and prayed over and spoken on. Probably a thousand years ago. Try to stump Her. I don’t think you can. And chances are, any doubt you’ve had, any questioning thought, any scary emotion or empty blackness you’ve felt – there are generations upon generations of saints, priests, souls – who have walked that very path.
And then, of course, there’s Jesus. He is so real and so in love with you… if you were the only person ever created, He would have done it all, and waited all this time, just for you. I tell you, it’s true.
I am here. I realize that I am just one. But I beg of you – please don’t go. The heart of the Church, which is Christ, loves you unto death. And we, the body of the Church, we want you. You for you. We know you are a unique and individual creation. We know that your soul – that deepest part of you that is bigger than the universe – we know it’s precious. And it seeks God. There is nothing in this world today that the Church can’t walk through with you. You cannot shock or stump Her. She is more relevant than you’ll ever know. There is nothing you can do that is big enough to close off the path home. There is no way you can block it entirely. There is always a way through and over. And I promise you, what you seek is here. I challenge you to open your heart. Just even crack open the door. You might be surprised. All those things that have vexed you might very well become those warm enveloping arms that welcome you home.
So please don’t go.
Yesterday I read this passage written by Servant of God Luigi Giussani. And it made me cry. Because here is man (like I said above) who can put the thoughts in my heart into words. Much more beautifully than I ever could. I see it as a challenge to us Catholics. And a promise to the world.
“From my very first day as a teacher, I’ve always offered these words of warning to my class: ‘I’m not here so that you can take my ideas as your own; I’m here to teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you. And what I have to tell you is the result of a long experience, of a past that is two thousand years old.’ From the beginning, our educational efforts have always stood by this method, clearly pointing out that it was intended to show how faith could be relevant to life’s needs…. I came to believe deeply that only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life’s needs) could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction, so much so that even theology for a long time had given in to a faith separated from life. Showing the relevance of faith to life’s needs, and therefore – and this ‘therefore’ is important –showing that faith is rational, implies a specific concept of rationality. When we say that faith exalts rationality, we mean that faith corresponds to some fundamental, original need that all men and women feel in their hearts.” (Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education, New York 2001, pp. 11-12).
So, get in touch if you need help finding someone to talk to. The Church is waiting for you.