While she understands their exasperation, she’s alarmed by their attitude. If we start labeling those who have become estranged or half-hearted, we run the risk of alienating them completely and never seeing them back in the pews. It’s difficult for her to be in the midst of these conversations, realizing that she is one of the very people about whom friends and acquaintances are venting their frustrations. She feels like an imposter. They seem to assume that she’s part of the “we” simply because they see her at daily Mass and parish events. Little do they know that she was once about as far away from the church as the very people they’re criticizing.
This has so concerned her that she decided to come out of her hiding place, so to speak, and to address these conversations in an open and charitable manner. Additionally, she’s initiated a parish program that is intended to open the minds and hearts of the “we” to the “they” and the “they” to the “we.” Her goal is to help others realize that it isn’t “we” or “they,” but simply “us.”
This reminds me of our Lord’s prayer for unity at the Last Supper:
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:22-24)
Our Lord wants all of us to see his glory, whether we’ve been meticulously faithful to the Catholic Church our entire lives or whether we’ve made a detour along the way. I know that a lot of people use the passage from John 17 to explain the need for ecumenism, but our Lord also intended these words for those who are within the realm of the Catholic faith tradition – whether they be enthusiastic or lapsed Catholics.
It’s easy to label others when we don’t understand the reasons that lie behind their decisions. It’s easy to become distressed when we see others who don’t love the Catholic Church as vibrantly and outwardly as we ourselves do. It can become very discouraging to see empty pews on Sunday morning. So it’s easy to see those whose faith has cooled as “they” and ourselves as “we.”
People lapse in their faith because they’re lacking something – perhaps proper catechesis or adequate formation – because something is prohibiting them from embracing the fullness of the faith, or because something has caused them to feel as though they are merely lurking on the outside and aren’t welcomed inside of the church. Regardless of the reason, they aren’t stepping back because they are “bad” Catholics; they’ve stepped back because they just haven’t found the way in yet.
Those who are part of the “they” are hurting, and “we” hold the key to their healing in our hands. We can begin by meditating on Our Lord’s words to his heavenly Father at the Last Supper. Perhaps that will help us to see that it isn’t “they” or “we,” it’s “us.”
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her Web site)