I must admit that I found it difficult to take the first steps in returning to the Catholic Church. As I mentioned in previous blogs, most of my hesitation to return to the Church revolved around so much misinformation about the Church. When I left the church I wandered far and I tried many alternatives to Catholicism, from New Age to Protestantism and everything in between. I go married to a divorced woman, and then I became a pastor of a Protestant church. in so many ways I ex-communicated myself from the Catholic Church. I know many, many people who made rather poor choices in life, simply because they failed to gather enough or at least the right information before ploughing ahead.
I am the first to raise my hand and announce that I chose to stay away from the Church because I was sure the Catholic Church did not want me back. In my mind I was an unforgivable sinner for the Catholic Church. I heard all the rules, so I thought. I heard all the horror stories from former Catholics who entered into the Protestant church where I was the pastor. I suppose it was a simple case of "misery loves company." I was fed a very negative image of the Catholic Church and I accepted the complaints of others as the truth!
Between my mother's prayers for me and the intervention of a dear friend, I softened enough to listen to people who were still in the Church. It is amazing how much the joy in a person's life can show on their face and can be heard in their voice. It was the joy I was missing. Naturally, I wondered if the Catholic Church had changed, or had I never really known the Catholic Church at all?
Sure there are things that cause ex-communication in the Church, but that does not mean that the Church desires that you remain ex-communicated. On the contrary, the Church wants to welcome Catholics who left the Church back in. Fact of the matter is that the Church is based entirely on the idea that human beings are sinners by nature! People sin and the Church wants to heal the pain and set the sinner onto a healthy and wholesome path.
The wonderful priest who welcomed me back has a church whose Sunday attendance has risen from about 400 a week to well over 5000 a week in less than 10 years. The dear priest has added so many Masses to make it convenient for everyone who wants to attend Mass to attend. Even more impressive is the attendance at Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). He is the only priest at that church and he listened to at least 35 confessions this past Tuesday evening when I went. At Mass on Sundays (and during the week), he takes the time to talk to as many people as he can before and after Mass. He welcomes all of us and reminds us that we must come as we are...sinners. I needed to hear that! The church was made for sinners. Conversion of sinners is what Christ is all about... well that and to praise and worship!
Fear of return, or the sense that we are unworthy to return is something that needs to be dispelled. The Catholic Church has gotten a bad rap over the years about the rules to exclude. The Church is working very hard to include.
Now, I do have to say that I had to make some changes in myself! I couldn't go on living as I did. But, conversion, or in the case or returning Catholics, reversion, it is a dynamic and ongoing process. If anything can be learned it is to have patients and pray! It is also important to find the encouragers of the Church! God knows we have had enough discouragers!