Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

So, you say you're Catholic?

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from one of my regular blog readers asking me whether people who are baptised Catholic, but no longer practicing the Faith, yet claiming to be Catholic, are considered Catholic.

Good question. Case-in-point: In my first year of university I had a Catholic acquaintance who was constantly telling my Protestant friends how they were all going to Hell because they weren't Catholic and how being Protestant was stupid, etc.. etc.. etc.. His approach to these people seemed very arrogant and was not exactly what you'd be looking for in ecumenical dialogue. At the same time, this particular young man (by his own admission) was not a practicing Catholic. He'd been raised Catholic, attended Catholic elementary and high school, but was no longer going to Mass or participating in the sacraments. He certainly did not leave a positive impression of the Catholic Faith on our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ yet presented himself to them as a Catholic who knew what he was talking about.

I know how frustrating conversations with such people can be. When talking with these people I try and remember first to be charitable in all that I say and secondly God's great mercy.

The general rule really is though: Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Isn't that amazing? We can do the most horrible things, and yet God is always ready to extend to us his perfect mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The catch is, it's a gift that he freely gives, yet also a gift that we must freely receive. He won't force us to be a practicing Catholic. You can apostasize or be a heretic, and yet, the indelible mark on your soul remains. Once you're baptised, that's it. You can't undo it. If someone has apostasized and claims that they are no longer Catholic, although they were baptized in the Catholic Church, even though they may not consider themselves Catholic they still are in the sense that the mark on there soul is indelible. That's the beauty of the Faith. A person who has fallen away from the practice of the Faith for decades is always welcome back through the Sacrament of Mercy. Isn't that amazing? (I know I'm repeating myself, but really, think about it. . . isn't that amazing?!)

This is just my personal reflection and not a highly intellectual analysis of the question, but it seems to me that a non-practicing Catholic who continues to claim to be Catholic is indeed Catholic (albeit one who has separated his or herself from Christ and His Church). That we can commit such great offences against the love of God and yet he is always calling us back to Him blows my mind. A Catholic may not practice their Faith for years, or even decades, yet all that time God is calling them back to Him. God's mercy is so great. At any time someone who has rejected His Church can return.

As I noted above, it's easy to get frustrated with non-practicing Catholics who claim to speak as Catholics, and yet, really, our attitude towards them should not be one of frustration but rather of great charity. Love seeks what is best for another. For these people, the best thing for them is to be reconciled to Christ and His Bride, the Church, from which they have fallen away. Therefore, if we are truly treating these people with charity we will allow God to use us as instruments to draw them back to the practice of the Faith through our example, words, and deeds.

For many of us it's easy to pass judgement on non-practicing Catholics. Sometimes their offence against God seems very public and clear. It's easy to fall into the mindset of "Mrs. Jones stopped going to Mass. That poor women is living in mortal sin." But this is not the attitude of mercy and charity God calls us to. We're not to be the judges but rather are to imitate the love of Christ. We can do so by helping these people to see His great love for them in the Sacraments. It's also helpful to remember that no matter how seemingly small or great an offense is against God, any sin is horrific when compared to the charity of God. Rather than judging others who have fallen away from the practice of the faith we should examine our own consciences and realize that we, like them, are sinners who have greatly offended God. We are sinners, yet graced by God. Charity requires us to do what we can (whether it be through prayer, conversation, example, etc...) to draw these Catholics back to the grace we are blessed to receive in the sacraments which God also desires to bestow upon them.

I agree that the statement "once a Catholic, always a Catholic" causes challenges when considered in light of the scandals caused by non-practicing Catholics, particularly high-profile individuals. I think I'll save this one for another day though. Furthermore, like most Catholics, I have friends and family dear to me who are not only not practicing the Catholic Faith but who have clearly rejected Catholicism (and in some cases even God). If I were to propose to these people that they are still Catholic I'm sure it wouldn't go over very well. Neither would it go over very well with Catholics who have left the Church to join another religion. Yet, even with persons such as these we must never give up hope that they will return to Christ and His Church. Pray for them. Pray for them and never give up hope.