ASK FATHER: Three questions from a sinner who wants to come home.

From a reader…

QUAERUNTUR:

I have been gone from the Church for about 10 years, and I am just starting the journey of coming home; I am a disgusting sinful mess…
I have 3 questions [I usually take one at a time, but this time I’ll make an exception.] and will try to keep them brief.
1) I know my boyfriend and I are not allowed to have any sort of sexual relations together anymore, but does that also mean we can’t sleep in the same bed fully clothed and not doing anything sexual? (Unless we were to get married of course)
2) I had an abortion, so I understand that I am unofficially
excommunicated. How do I remedy this? Must I make a confession to my local bishop for this kind of sin? Also for apostasy or heresy as well? since I had basically declared myself an agnostic atheist.
3) I had started going to Mass the last few days (of course not going up for Holy Communion since I have not made my Confession yet) but am I sinning in even going to Mass in my state?
Thank you so much for your help on any of the questions! This has really been bothering me and I’m not sure what is right.

First of all, all you readers, stop say a Hail Mary for this woman. God is calling her, as He calls each of us, to turn away from our sins and turn more and more towards Him, who alone is capable of giving us the peace and happiness for which we long.

God loves you and has never stopped loving you no matter how far you feel you’ve run from His love.

Next, welcome home.  And you are home, even if the journey is still taking some time and there is more to do. You will soon find, if you haven’t already, that you are coming back to a Church which is made up of a lot of sinners just like you. We all struggle to root sin out of our lives, sometimes with greater success than other times. God gives us the strength and the grace we need, if we cooperate with Him. I hope you can find a good and holy priest to help you in your return, along with a solid and healthy parish where you can start living out your rediscovered Catholic faith.

To your specific questions.

1) Remaining chaste is a challenge even in the best of circumstances, but this is what God calls us to. As Christians, we are called not only to avoid sin, but also to avoid near occasions of sin. God doesn’t ask this of us just to be mean or to prevent us from doing what we want. He really does know what is best for us.  If I were trying to diet, but prepared a large bowl of spaghetti alla carbonara every night and set it on the table while I munched on celery sticks, I would torture myself needlessly. This is a major step, but you should consider the steps needed to move out on your own, maybe in with a family member or a girl friend for a bit, and then to pray and discern whether or not to proceed towards marriage with this boyfriend. At first, ask your boyfriend to start sleeping on the couch. If he respects you, and is a gentleman (the kind of guy you really should consider marrying), he will do so graciously, even if he has not yet joined you on your return to the Church.

2) In most dioceses in these United States, priests are given the faculty to lift the penalties that apply to sins such as abortion and apostasy. If you are not certain, a quick anonymous call to the diocesan chancery office (ask for the Chancellor’s office, or the Tribunal) should clear it up. When you go to make your confession, it would probably be a good idea to make an appointment because you may need a little extra time not afforded when others are in line behind you.  An appointment does not necessarily mean you must confess face-to-face. You can ask Father if he would be willing to meet you in the confessional in the church at a fixed time.  Abortion is a serious sin, as is apostasy, but they are not unforgivable sins.  There is not unforgivable sin if you are prepared to ask forgiveness of God and His loving mercy.  Before or after your confession, you might want get in touch with Rachel’s Vineyard.  They provide invaluable service in helping to heal the wounds caused by abortion.

3) You do not sin by attending Mass even though you haven’t been fully reconciled yet. Attending Mass is a marvelous way to cooperate with the grace that God is giving you at right now. Hopefully, it’s fueling the hunger for the Blessed Sacrament and the state of grace that is your goal, and deepening your love for Christ and His Church.

One of Satan’s biggest tricks – lies – is to convince us, before we sin, that the sin we are tempted with at that moment is minor (“It’s no big deal, just go ahead and do it, it’s really not all that bad”). Then, once we have committed sin, the Enemy changes his tune and tries to convince us that our sins are so horrible that God couldn’t possibly love us, that we should just stay away from the Church, stay away from Mass, stay away from prayer and sacramentals because we are so filthy and disgusting and sinful. Don’t let the Enemy trick you. Yes, your sins may be serious, but God’s grace and mercy are vastly bigger. If you haven’t already, get a small bottle for some holy water from the Church, get a blessed Rosary and pray it. Keep it in your pocket or your purse. Get a blessed Crucifix and keep it in your home. These steps will help you move more and more close to God.

You are not alone and, with the help of God and the prayers of many, you can do this!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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61 Responses to ASK FATHER: Three questions from a sinner who wants to come home.

  1. Mary Jane says:

    Prayed! To the lady who posed the questions: Our Lord and Our Lady bless you and keep you.

  2. ajf1984 says:

    Prayers on their way Heavenward for this daughter of the Church! May our Blessed Lady keep her close, may St. Michael defend her against the snares of the Enemy, and may our glorious St. Joseph assist her and her boyfriend on the path of chastity. Omnes Sancti et Sanctae Dei, intercedite pro ea et pro nobis!

  3. deo_volente says:

    This is the single greatest post I have ever read on this blog, both in the questions and the response. I nearly cried for joy and compassion. Every single person reading this, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey, has something to learn from this post.

  4. Back pew sitter says:

    What a beautiful post. Alas, I am one of the blacker sheep, and so I’m not saying, of course, that sins are beautiful. They are not. But God’s love and mercy is so beautiful and ‘covers over’ all our sins as I experienced (yet again) this morning when I went to Confession.

    What a great and loving God we have. Welcome home to this young lady. May you be fully reconciled with God and his Church and know his love and mercy. God bless. You’ll be in my prayers.

  5. May God bless this woman and strengthen her resolve to return to the practice of the Faith.

    I spent many years being pretty horrible, so if I may, let me offer a little bit of insight.

    In regard to going to Mass, one of the biggest helps I had was going to daily Mass, although I didn’t approach the Sacraments for a very long time. Being very weak from habitual sin and seemingly unable to help myself, opportunities seemed to open, resolve was strengthened, supporting friends appeared. There is something about being in that ‘force field’ of the Blessed Sacrament, that Holy undeniable Presence, that invades the willing soul and helps the turnaround. Although it is true that we do nothing without God’s help, turning our wills toward Him in even small actions “allows” God to respond to us in the most amazing ways. God is loving and merciful, just yes, but He loves us with a burning love we can’t begin to imagine, and longs for our love.

    So yes, by all means, humbly place yourself in the presence of God at any opportunity.

  6. aegsemje says:

    Praise God! I am so happy this woman is hearing God’s voice! God Bless you, and I will keep you in my prayers!

  7. SanSan says:

    Welcome home dear sister…..you have the Hail Mary of many who visit this blog. Hold on to Our Blessed Mother….under her mantle she will gently guide you. Please take Father Z’s advice on Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend, you will be joyously amazed and grateful for their guidance. God Bless.

  8. Kensington says:

    Oh, God bless her!

    I love reading stories like this.

  9. mysticalrose says:

    I prayed and will continue to pray. Welcome home!

  10. djc says:

    Best. Post/Answers. Ever.

    djc

  11. Sonshine135 says:

    Welcome home indeed! There is much rejoicing in heaven this day.

  12. A bunch of Hail Marys prayed and will be prayed for this beautiful soul. Yes, Rachel’s Vineyard, yes, yes, and yes. There isn’t enough space here to describe what the counseling and eventual weekend retreat did for me. I’m still on the journey, always will be. But, don’t give up hope. There is always hope and love. I’ll be praying for you. Now call Rachel’s Vineyard http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/

  13. templariidvm says:

    The Holy Spirit is working through both the questioner and you, Father. You both are in my prayers.

  14. Priam1184 says:

    I would suggest to this woman to read the parable of the Prodigal Son (The Gospel of Luke chapter 15 verses 11 to 32), and read it out loud to herself, because the Father is already running to you. He has a great feast prepared for you, and a fine robe for you, and a ring to put on your finger; if only you will take it.

  15. yatzer says:

    Welcome home, sister, Prayers for you, having experienced that force field myself when far astray.

  16. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Good answers, of course. Re excommunication for abortion, I have long argued that it does not apply to the pregnant woman. See my “Excommunication for abortion” in 2010 CLSA Advisory Opinions at 178-182. The grave sin needs confessing, but I think there is no sanction to lift here.

    Poenae latae sententiae delendae sunt. [And yet the law stands as it is. But let this not become a rabbit hole.]

  17. raininnewark says:

    Simply beautiful. There are few things more moving than someone returning to the faith.

  18. andia says:

    And this is why this blog, is so very important.

    Father, you will not find out how many people you have helped come back to the church until you meet them all in heaven! God bless you and your readers.

    [Too true. And yet the earthly feedback is helpful. Thanks.]

  19. oldconvert says:

    To the questioner, you are among many of us who have strayed, and for far longer than ten years! Yet we find our way back home, supported by the prayers of many whom we don’t even know. Keep going to Mass as often as you can, you will gain great spiritual strength thereby, even though you can’t yet receive. My prayers for you.

  20. priests wife says:

    ….crying tears of joy for her- how much happier is Jesus and our Lady! This is wonderful and I’m sure these questions and answers will help others in their walk.

    I encourage the original poster to call Rachel’s Vineyard and talk to women who know how to gently help.

    (by the way- original poster- I am Byzantine Catholic so that is why I can be a priest’s wife- not the topic, but I didn’t want to confuse you)

  21. Moral_Hazard says:

    Prayers for the young lady and her boyfriend as well.

  22. DisturbedMary says:

    Young lady, let me tell you that the more you move toward a sacramental life, the happier you will be. You will love obedience. And I mean LOVE. You will find that when you do the will of God, you don’t make the same mistakes as when you consult yourself alone. Please, take the time to put everything you are doing in the hands of Our Blessed Mother. She will be behind you all the way to her Son. You are in my prayers.

  23. DavidJ says:

    This is awesome and I will definitely pray for you! God loves you! Never forget it!

  24. PA mom says:

    It feels so GOOD to come home.

    And just keep trying, God removes so many of the seemingly immovable barriers in time by the power of His grace!

    Praying for you.

  25. jfk03 says:

    Realizing that one is a “disgusting sinful mess” is the first step in becoming a disciple of the Lord. The deeper one’s relationship with the Lord, the more one realizes the hopelessness of his/her situation in the absence of God’s grace. My prayers are with you, Sister.

  26. jfk03 says:

    PS: I have found the daily rosary a big help in warding off attacks by demons and passions.

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Praying! And virtual hugs!

  28. Gregg the Obscure says:

    How wonderful!

    Dear sister – congratulations on the courage and openness to the Lord that led to take this step. Other steps may be difficult, but do not get discouraged. You are precious in the sight of the Lord. As the (OF) reading said last week “Behold what love the Father has shown us that we should be called children of God, yet so we are. We are God’s children now . . . ” No matter what your past sins are, they cannot separate you from the love of God unless you let them do so.

  29. benedetta says:

    Her courage in taking the next good step forward together with the God who loves her infinitely gives such great encouragement to a fellow sinner such as myself. It is an honor to add my prayers for her journey toward love, real and true.

  30. ReginaMarie says:

    Glory & thanks be to God for calling this precious daughter back home to the Church! I, too, will be praying for her & her boyfriend. How great is the mercy of God!

  31. Torpedo1 says:

    Welcome home!
    I want to repeat, paraphrase some words my priest gave me upon my first confession, perhaps they will help you.
    It took lots of courage to do what you did. God knows we are weak and that we fall, but if we work with him, with his grace we learn how much he loves us and wants us to love him.
    Keep doing what you’re doing and my prayers, and my joy at your return, go with you. As others have said above, call Rachel’s vineyard, and keep going to Mass as often as you can. I find, when I can’t receive for one reason or another, that just being at the Mass itself is very sustaining.
    *snif* Fr. Z, such loving and compassionate words. We would be lost and so discouraged without priests like you. God bless you both.

  32. Eugene says:

    Father Z…after spending sometime at the Fishwrap, I really see the value of your blog compared to theirs to cause a young lady to pour her heart out and wanting to re-enter the church and you supplying compassionate prayerful answers…you are doing God’s work
    BTW i did say a Hail Mary for her

  33. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z, I know of two diocese in which not all the priests have the faculties for lifting the excommunication. Some liberal priests deny this is necessary. It is.

    One must ask a priest in the confessional if he has the faculties, or, as you noted, call the chancery. but some secretaries do not have a clue what one is talking about. Rachel’s Vineyard is fantastic, and I can heartily recommend it in the Peoria Diocese.

  34. eulogos says:

    I prayed, and as I did so, was moved to tears. Praise God! Believe me that this is the way to joy in your life. Not to having things easy, but to true joy. Often it also leads to many occasions of earthly happiness as well, as God really does want good things for us, including many things we don’t have trouble seeing as good, like a lasting marriage, and children. But even when life externally may be painful, there truly is the peace the world cannot know. God bless you, and don’t let anything hold you back. If it is too hard to bring yourself to call the chancery to ask, (I’d have trouble doing that) just find a priest. I have lived in some rather liberal and at times “far out” dioceses, yet I never encountered a priest who didn’t take his job in the confessional seriously. Most priests would feel that hearing a confession like yours was one of the things they became priests for! You will make his day! He won’t see you the way you are seeing yourself but as someone who loves God and wants to return to Him and is bravely making a difficult step.
    You now have Fr. Z’s many readers praying for you! Welcome home, and rejoice!

  35. everett says:

    What an inspiring message to receive! May God bless her on her continued journey home.

  36. jasoncpetty says:

    Hey, high fives all around! I remember first pulling myself out of a decade of grave mortal sin. Heady times, those. Still coasting on and spending down the account of grace I received at that time, living off the interest as it were. :)

  37. makreitzer says:

    So grateful for your wisdom, Father, and for being a channel of grace for this honest young woman. I already prayed my Hail Mary for her and my husband and I will offer our evening rosary for her speedy journey home.

  38. Former Altar Boy says:

    My Mass and Communion this Sunday will be offered in support of this woman and in thanksgiving for her return. God bless her.
    If she reads these comments, please start making a Spiritual Communion when you attend Mass. I had to do it for years. It will help until you can approach he Communion rail again.
    Finally, I came to better appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy when I considered the fact that he didn’t strike me dead all the times I was in a state of sin.

  39. CPT TOM says:

    Welcome home! My prayers and thoughts are with you. The Lord makes all things possible if we surrender ourselves to him. May the Blessed Mother watch over you, and St Michael be by your side during your journey!

  40. Kathleen10 says:

    Readers here know that when someone says “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”, they are already well on their way back to the God who made them. You have provided a picture of what true humility looks like. God bless you and “Amen!” to the prayers said for you!

  41. Gregory DiPippo says:

    I said the Rosary for you today.

    “Remember to hold that all the past is nothing.” – St Francis de Sales

  42. I came from the same neighborhood, sin-wise, so I can agree with everyone and say, YES, go to mass! You gain strength and blessing just being in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It might take time to get all the knots untied, but now you have the prayers of all of us Fr. Z. readers!

  43. Pnkn says:

    Welcome ! Welcome ! Welcome !
    Tears of joy !
    Praise be to the Holy Trinity and Joseph and Mary and to all of the church !

    Thanks you my Lord !

  44. Grumpy Beggar says:

    . . . Prayed a decade of the Rosary for this courageous lady before posting , and will continue to pray for her.

    From the OP :

    “God loves you and has never stopped loving you no matter how far you feel you’ve run from His love.”

    These words speak to us all, Padre.
    Thank-you.

    1 Timothy 1:15 [NAB]

    “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”

  45. kelleyb says:

    Your questions did bring me to tears because I remembered how I returned to the Church after 10 years away. You are loved by the great God of all. He is calling you as a Daddy does to a child who has strayed. You are courageous. God bless you. I will pray for you.

  46. Diane says:

    God Bless You Sister! And Welcome Home indeed!!! What you are embarking on will be such a great gift to your life! Now is the perfect time. I have prayed for you as Fr. Z asked and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

  47. Paulo says:

    …and I fell off the wagon today. …And I was going to skip my night prayers because I am a rotten s.o.b. … and this whole p0st (“We all struggle to root sin out of our lives, sometimes with greater success than other times”) and comments (like “Readers here know that when someone says “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”, they are already well on their way back to the God who made them) just brought me right back to where I need to be, aiming at reconciliation.

    Never a dull moment at Z-nation!

  48. lana says:

    As a revert, I want to give a big AMEN to Father’s advice about the Rosary.

  49. NoraLee9 says:

    Luke 15:10: So I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.
    Oh the rejoicing! The sublime happiness!
    Re: Chastity. When I was in graduate school, I took a philosophy course and encountered the “Euthyphro Question.” Is it good because G-d commands it? Or does G-d command it because it’s good?
    G-d mandates the Christian way of life because it IS good. The rules aren’t arbitrary. They are there to protect us, to guide us, and to lead us to happiness in this life and the one to come. You are taking the first steps on a path that will lead to interior joy and peace. The outside world will rattle and hum. Events will occur, little and great, fortunate and unfortunate, but the interior peace which Our Lord gives to those who follow him will keep you anchored; it will facilitate your ability to help others; it will give meaning to your life.
    I will keep you in my prayers. Your story made my day.

  50. OlderCatholic says:

    Such good advice about the boyfriend! Good on so many levels!! Spiritual and practical all at once.

    Is he The One, this boyfriend? If so, this matter must be approached in a far more deliberate and sensible way than so far. If not, well, whatever is going on? How can this be doing anyone any good? We don’t know if the former pregnancy was a result of this relationship, but it seems to have resulted from what we may charitably call unclear thinking. Again, what good can possibly come of this?

    Brighter days ahead, in any case. Sin makes a mess of things on so many levels; turning away from it is turning towards the light. Welcome home! Without God we only make messes; if we allow it God can make such beautiful things in our lives!

  51. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Yes indeed, dear sister/OP. Welcome home and be assured all in Heaven are rejoicing! (Lk. 15:7)

    See how many new friends you have made in the Mystical Body of Christ? :^)

    This knucklehead knows exactly how you feel. As some have mentioned above we have been there and done that.

    I, too, will be offering Holy Masses and our family Rosaries for you and Fr. Z this weekend.

    May the Lord bless you and Mary keep you.

    MSM

  52. sprachmeister says:

    Our Lord said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

    Heaven is already rejoicing over you as you come home. Take heart! You’ll soon have the robe, ring and shoes back on and be home with the Father. God bless.

  53. Gerard Plourde says:

    Adding my prayers for her reconciliation. May Our Lord also guide her steps.

  54. DD says:

    Adding my prayers to those of many others. Her faith and courage is and will be an inspiration to others.

  55. JesusFreak84 says:

    You know something makes me excited when I’m sitting on my hands to avoid flapping them at work ^_^;;;

    Praise GOD :D :D :D

  56. eganronnie says:

    Saying a prayer for her that the Lord will continue to guide her.

  57. Andrew_81 says:

    Prayers of thanksgiving for the graces and light received.

    Two canonical notes:

    1. The excommunication only applies if the person was aware at the time of the crime that the Church attached a canonical penalty (Canon 1323). She did not need to know there was an excommunication, but that the Church medicinally punishes with some censure those who procure abortion. It is probable that most people don’t know of the excommunication, so most don’t incur it.

    2. In general every priest has faculties to remit the excommunication for abortion, provided the local Ordinary has not reserved it, since Canon 1398 does not declare it reserved. If the bishop has reserved the excommunication to himself, a priest without faculties can still absolve in the confessional (the “internal forum”) in an urgent case (Canon 1357). This would mean the person could make a confession, and the priest could give absolution for the sins and get the person back into the state of grace. This is called by canonists the “urgent case”. Commentators say that to remain in mortal sin while waiting for faculties, even for one day was enough to invoke this case. Were this case invokes, the penitent or confessor would then inform the bishop afterward, the chancery would notify the penitent on what penance was needed, if any, then the person could start acting externally as absolved, and going to Communion.

    According to the older law and commentators (which seems to still apply to the newer), wanting to give the returning penitent every possible means of getting out of sin, priest could even provoke this “urgent case” by his words, so he could then absolve immediately, rather than having to write in for faculties, or send the person off to the chancery.

    Canon Law may seem a rabbit hole, but in so many way it shows the great mercy of the Church. It is far more lenient than civil law!

  58. Kevin says:

    Dear God, – How good it is to be loved by you. – We know you do, ‘cos you give us HOLY, wise n’ loving Priests like Fr. Z.
    Thanks Fr.

  59. +JMJ+ says:

    Best question ever on this blog.

    Best post ever on this blog.

    Even if nothing else had ever come from this blog or ever would come from this blog, this post would justify its entire existence.

  60. muerknz says:

    Yes, this is the best post here. Full of compassion, hope and joy.

    You and your boyfriend are in my prayers, welcome home sister. I look forward to meeting you in person in heaven.

  61. Janine says:

    praying for her… :)