The church’s arms are open to you
The church’s arms are open to you
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
A recent study noted that the second-largest religious grouping in the United States (after Roman Catholics) is former Roman Catholics. Many of our sisters and brothers of the household of faith have left us.
The reasons for these departures vary greatly, of course, from boredom to actual theological disagreement; from a decision firmly made at some point to just falling into the habit of not going to church; from being offended by someone in the church to making lifestyle choices that are incompatible with Catholic moral teachings.
One of my favorite activities as a parish priest was working with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and talking with adults who were seeking to join the church. Their stories always strengthened my soul. Invariably, they found in the church something for which they were searching. Those who have left the church know that it filled a need for them, as well, at some point in their past.
This time of year, the Lenten season, is a great time to look back and see if that gift of the church might not still answer your own longings. In the Book of Revelation (2:4-5), Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus and notes that they have lost their first love. This seems to be something like married couples who have grown lukewarm in their affections for each other. Jesus tells the church to do three things: remember what you were like back then; repent of your sins; and act like you did in the olden days.
If you have fallen away from the church and the practice of your faith, would you please consider just thinking about what it would be like to be back? What needs in your spiritual life could be met by the reception of our Lord and Savior in holy Communion and the worship of God every Sunday with fellow believers? This kind of imagining is important as a first step since it is usually difficult to change our ways and, of course, it is impossible to do so without God’s grace.
Then there is always the need to repent. I have been going to confession every month since ninth grade (and probably before that as well, though I can’t remember). I am a sinner and need the grace of the sacrament to have greater openness to the life the Holy Spirit wants me to lead. Seek out this sacrament. Many of us have fallen out of use of this beautiful sacrament. If you find yourself in that position, might I ask you to use this holy season as an occasion to return? We want to be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect, and this sacrament can offer us a personal forum to be challenged and graced in order to be made perfect, to be made holy.
Finally, the best advice may be in doing what was done in earlier days. A couple experiencing difficulties can be encouraged to have another honeymoon, to practice courting one another, to treat one another in the ways that helped them fall in love in the first place. This is also good advice for those who are seeking to return to the family of faith. Try it on for awhile. Become comfortable. It will take time, especially if we have become rusty regarding our faith life. But, as we work at this, we will find our hearts being opened ever more to God’s love.
For those of us who have remained in the church, but have loved ones who have wandered off, I can only offer advice I have followed myself: Pray for our family members, love them without ceasing and be good examples. One of my favorite saints is St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She prayed and prayed that her son would come to the church and be baptized. In the end, the Lord answered her prayers and God broke though Augustine’s stubborn and prideful heart. As we know, he became one of the greatest saints in the church. I pray often to Monica, seeking her help in interceding with our Heavenly Father.
My sisters and brothers, if you have been away, please come back. We are not perfect – in fact, we are sinners, but that is what the church is for. So join us sinners as we try to worship our Heavenly Father as Jesus has shown us, by offering up his own body and blood and then sharing that same food for our salvation.
In this season, join us as we fast, as we pray, as we give alms and, thus, as we try to be less of our selfish selves and try to become more like Christ. Any Lenten season is a good time to make this move, but this Lent is special because it is the time today that belongs completely to you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Most Reverend Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing