Concerning New Evangelization, fallen-away Catholics, invitations, liturgical worship

In another entry, about implementing Summorum Pontificum in a parish, my correspondent mentioned awareness that we must help fallen away Catholics back to Holy Church.

In this Year of Faith we should act concretely to bring Catholics back to the sacraments. Their souls are in peril. We have an obligation to them out of love of God and neighbor.

The Holy Father’s call to promote a “New Evangelization” aims to revive our Catholic identity and practice of the Faith in places, traditionally and historically Christian, where the Faith is dying our or effectively dead.

We all know Catholics whose faith is dying or dead.  Rather, their conscious and active identity as Catholics, is at best dormant.  The virtue of faith is the last of the theological virtues to fade, after charity and hope.

I have at times made some suggestions to people who have told me, with pain, that their loved-ones are not practicing their Catholic Faith.

A first suggestion is to avoid bitter arguments.  It is likely that the people you worry about have already heard what you have to say and they know what you are going to argue.  The problem is that, these days, people don’t reason well.  You can lead them from point to point into an inescapable conclusion and they will respond, “That might be true for you.”  Also, it seem to me that people don’t really care if they make you mad.  But they still care if they have made you sad.  Express your concern and sorrow about their choices not to practice the Faith.  Try not to argue too much.  Show JOY in your Faith, for joy is attractive.  But, that said, remember 1 Peter 3:15.

A second suggestion is to be inviting.  Even if people refuse, they are still pleased that you thought enough about them to invite them.  Never underestimate the power of an invitation. Invite fallen away Catholics to Mass and other parish events. If every regular church-goer would remember to invite someone every week to come with him, imagine what an effect that could have. Many will not accept. Some will. But if many are doing the inviting, many will eventually come. Everyone benefits. Parishes grow. Souls are helped. You please God who will crown your deeds with His own merits.

A third suggestion concerns especially parish priests.  We have to rethink our liturgical worship to support a New Evangelization.  Something of what I intend by this suggestion can be teased out from a manifesto I posted HERE.  We cannot succeed with Year of Faith proposals or the New Evangelization unless we revitalize our liturgical worship of God.  God is at the summit of all relationships we have.  By the virtue of Religion, we owe proper worship to God.  This is a matter of Justice and Religion.  If we do not give God what is his due, our relationship with God will be disordered.  As a consequence all our other relationships will be disordered.  One of the best thing a parish priest can do to help people live better and be in better relationships is to foster proper worship of God.   Foster worship which stresses the transcendent.  An encounter with mystery, the transcendent, cuts through escapist arguments and world-mired excuses.  What we have been doing, in the main, hasn’t worked.

Thus endeth the rant.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. kab63 says:

    I am a revert because of these factors:

    My father prayed to St. Monica every day.

    My father walked the walk, providing an example of Catholic faith in action.

    I knew I wanted to belong to a larger community. As I sampled other faiths, their traditions appeared insipid compared to my memory of the Catholic liturgy.

    My husband and I saw Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in the theater. The Jesus depicted was very different from the milquetoast Christ portrayed in popular culture. My eyes were opened. Equally important, my husband’s eyes were opened. His conversion, and our support for each other, was critical. Also, my father’s consistent example resonated for my husband once he began to consider the Catholic faith.

    None of these examples include a lecture, a Christmas gift of Catholic books, or recriminations.

  2. 1catholicsalmon says:

    I certainly don’t think your post resembled a rant at all. Some very pertinent and important advice contained in this post, Fr. As an aside, here in England we call the fallen away Catholics ‘resting Catholics’. I must admit to preferring the term ‘fallen away, because it’s true.
    Your line,’Their souls are in peril,’ is particularly chilling. As practising Catholics we have an obligation to bring/help/coax/encourage them back to the Faith. They have chosen to turn from the Truth. The True Faith. This puts them in such a precarious position spiritually, that they might well be damned forever! They need all the help they can get to come back into the Fold. A BIG responsibility.
    Our wonderful parish priest is injecting something just a little different and pointed into his homilies and this little change is sure to make the parish sit up and take notice.

  3. From a priest:

    Thanks for your recent entry with tips for the New Evangelization, especially the bit about being inviting. It reminded me of a seminary prof who would often say, “How can we expect to convert the world if we walk around all the time, looking like our dog just died?!”

  4. 1catholicsalmon says:

    I forgot to add, that the most important thing to do for these fallen away Catholics is to pray for their eyes to be opened to the beauty, splendour and roots of our Faith.

  5. Johnno says:

    A suggestion to engage with such people is to come at it from a roundabout way. For example, bringing up news stories with concern to science. Or things that show overpopulation r man made global warming is bunk. Or maybe some other political topic that at first doesn’t seem to have anything to do with religion, but will always lead back to it eventually. Bring up such things very matter of factly, and soon you’ll be steering down the path of talking about the Catholic faith itself. They’re very willing to discuss it if they don’t realize what they’re getting into. Seeds are planted in such ways. These can happen over the course of very natural conversations. No opportunity is lost.

  6. anilwang says:

    Very true. When you find out you’re lost, the best way forward is often to retrace your steps.

    But I ask think that little things such as praying before and after meals (with the sign of the cross before and after the prayer), and Friday fasts are also important, as are attendances in daily mass.

    Not only do they invite questions, especially among poorly catechised Catholics and non-Catholics, they are also a constant reminder that the faith we have has an impact on our daily lives. This is something many poorly catechized fallen away Catholics that aren’t trying to rebel against the faith don’t realize. They think, as long as I’m a good person, I’m okay, and Church is “the same old thing” that has no impact in my life, so why bother?

    I know many Catholics that aren’t fallen away that go to mass (at least once a month) more out of social ties and habit than actual love or understanding of the faith. They may not have fallen away, but they are only a step away from being so. All it would take is for prolonged work of family stress or a life crisis to discourage them from attending “for now”. Eventually, a month turns into a year, and the years add up until you’re gone completely without realizing that you made that decision.

  7. StWinefride says:

    I personally found Patrick Madrid’s book – “Search and Rescue – How to bring family and friends into or back into the Catholic Church” very helpful.

    The focus is on our own personal holiness, humility – not letting our ego get in the way, perseverance in prayer etc.

    We can sabotage the whole process if we do not develop the “virtues of an apostle” as Patrick Madrid explains.

    Welcome Home @kab63! and your conversion story shows that this is in fact an effective method of evangelisation.

    St Monica, pray for us.

  8. Phillip says:

    I know from personal experience that just talking about your faith can help bring back Catholics who haven’t practiced in awhile. Just…be happy to be Catholic. People see that and they’re drawn to it. I’ve invited plenty of friends to Mass. Even Protestants or non-religious people. Usually there are good conversations afterwards, especially when attending the EF (“So…after the dude said, ‘Go, it is the dismissal’…we stood there for ten more minutes, knelt a few more times, and did that cross thing again? What’s up with that?”) Even if you don’t see an immediate result, you might awaken some longing they didn’t even know they had. That’s how I became Catholic myself.

    And because it’s kind of hard to set a good example of being a happy Catholic without being in the state of grace, go to confession frequently. And priests need to keep preaching about it and making it available. When I was in boot camp, the Catholic chaplain devoted three Sunday homilies in a row at least in part to confession and the Four Last Things. Some people (who probably wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place) might call that a little excessive, but it works. He was in the confessional after Mass for as long as it took all the penitents to have a chance to confess, and people were lined up every week. I talked to plenty of them while waiting for my turn. Many hadn’t been to confession in years. Sometimes people just need that little nudge.

  9. Catherine says:

    Two weeks ago my three adult children and son-in-law were all together at my home, and I had told them beforehand that I wanted to have a talk with them. When we all convened, they looked as if they were about to have a root canal. I had felt called to talk to them about returning to the fullness of the Catholic faith ever since I learned that the Pope had promulgated The Year of Faith. I basically shared my testimony and conversion of returning to the Church and searching for truth. I covered everything: politics in these dark days, preparing to make difficult decisions that my husband and I never had to make, and growing in the love of a merciful and loving God. It was painful to expose these raw nerves and to tell them things about their mother that they didn’t know, but the times dictate such serious measures. I told them that before I leave this world, I wanted them to remember the answer to the catechism question I had learned when I was in the second grade in Catholic school: Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

    I urged them to return to the sacraments (my eldest daughter actually works at a Catholic school and is fairly faithful) and even invited my Protestant son-in-law to investigate the teachings of the Catholic Church, saying that perhaps no one had ever invited him to pursue these truths that were passed down since the days of Christ. He later told me that my talk had deeply touched him and that he would not interfere with his son being raised as a Catholic.

    I pray ceaselessly to St. Monica for their true conversion. Someone was praying for me all those years. Now I can at least leave this world knowing that I have done what I can. The rest is in God’s hands.

  10. Vince K says:

    The only thing I’m hesitant about is inviting people to come to Mass is that you are pretty well aware that some of them haven’t been going to Mass every Sunday and are often entangled in serious sin. Do you say, “Would you like to come to Mass with me? Oh, and by the way, if you come, I suggest you don’t go to Communion if you have missed Mass on Sundays without going to confession.”? Perhaps that is the best way to do it, its just that it is terribly awkward. Or, should we not make assumptions about the state of their soul? That is the only concern I have about inviting people to Mass. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this.

  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Vince K,
    I had this problem once… whether or not to silently encourage someone I know to go to Mass with me, because of Holy Communion. (Alas, I did not invite… They had had the idea they might go to Holy Mass, and were as yet unsure of it; that was the situation.) I considered it simply impossible (due to counterproductivity, and as you say awkwardness) to mention anything concerning worthiness for reception of Communion. Well, I have a tendency of being lax, but I resolved in that fulfilling the obligation of attendance trumps an objectively unworthy Communion if the Communion isn’t also unworthy subjectively. Of course I prayed a little prayer.
    Of course I’d have been prepared any time to truthfully answer concrete questions if they had been posed. I feel that, at least for the layman, there is a quite definite distance between answering to questions posed (where of course nothing of the truth may be hidden) and saying things on one’s own accord.

    The result was that, as far as I guess (I sat other place), they did not receive Holy Communion. For (given the nearly exceptionless generality of Reception of Communion) whatever reason. I do not know, and I’m not going to inquire.

    Also, just saying, a bitter argument might be a bitter thing. But, at least that’s how I’d feel, to hear a beloved person’s disagreement, which you can at least disagree with again, is less bitter and defiance-provoking than to hear an expression of sorrow and concern, which renders you speechless. As I said: just saying…

  12. Angie Mcs says:

    Vince, it’s a wonderful idea to ask someone to join you at mass. This may be an important first step for them. The best thing you can do is show them by your behavior and a joyful attitude how meaningful this can be. By behavior, I don’t mean joining you at communion. Most missals have some information in them setting the guidelines for taking communion, and you could gently point that out. Ask an usher to find you some information ahead of time if it is not easily available. I would not make assumptions on their soul or discuss any sin on their part. The One who does that will be with you and will know all anyway. Recently during a homily at my church, the priest eagerly suggested us asking someone to join us for mass, then perhaps go out for lunch and discuss things. One step at a time, like teaching a baby to walk. My husband did all this for me without any lecturing, except some minor guidance when I asked him. He just prayed for me, week after week, year after year, bless him, and kept most of his thoughts to himself. I really appreciated it and felt comfortable enough to continue joining him. Now I am a Catholic, too, and we openly discuss these things in great detail and a loving tone. So….I would offer the invitation, and keep any judgements to yourself. I realize I am relatively new at this myself, but i hope i have given you some help, and wish you the all the best.

  13. poohbear says:

    Yes, its awkward to bring up the communion thing to people you are inviting to Mass, but do you really want to be the cause of their committing the sin of receiving communion when they shouldn’t? If you invited them to a formal dinner party and knew they had never attended one, wouldn’t you prepare them by reviewing the proper etiquette beforehand? This is even more important.

    I have found that most people who do not attend Mass regularly have no idea that they can’t receive after missing Mass, whether its one Mass or 10 years worth. Of course you can’t accuse them of being in a state of sin, but what I have done is casually mention that the church requires anyone who has missed Mass to go to confession before receiving communion (‘oh, by the way…’). Often this is news to them. Be prepared to offer to bring them to confession if they want to go. Usually they don’t want to go to confession, but will go to Mass and not receive. Some will receive anyway, but at least you have done your part and made them aware of the situation. There are some who really don’t know that missing Mass is a mortal sin because no one ever told them. If they choose to receive with full knowledge of what they are doing, its not your fault. If you don’t tell them, and they don’t know, and wouldn’t receive if they knew, its your fault.

  14. Katheryn says:

    I’ve said this to people before:
    “Oh, and I am so delighted that you are coming to Mass with me! I just wanted to let you know though, that if you receive Communion, that means you are publicly accepting all of the teachings of the Church, so I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do that yet, seeing as you’re still trying to figure things out.”
    I’ve never had a problem when I came from that angle. I always leave out the part about desecrating the Sacrament or anything judgmental.

  15. anilwang says:

    Vince, I’d like to offer two suggestions:

    (1) Go to a mass which has confessions before mass and go to it (whether you are in a state of mortal sin or not), with a casual comment that we need to be worthy and clean to receive our Lord and Saviour in our hearts and souls.

    (2) If no such mass exists near you, simply abstain from the Eucharist and give the same explanation without details (again, whether or not you are in mortal sin).

    Ultimately it comes to leading by example. I know it is a sacrifice to abstain from the Eucharist, but at times we are called to abstain to prevent our brothers from sinning (1 Corinthians 8:13 “Therefore, if food makes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat while the world stands, lest I make my brother to stumble.”).

  16. Catholicity says:

    Especially I think with fallen away Catholics, just ask them if they want to come to confession and Mass with you. You may have to do it on a Saturday night as that is when most parishes do it now. But you probably wouldn’t even have to say anything beyond that. They’ll get the picture and you don’t have to preach. I know that a lot of people have this desire: “Yeaaaah, I’ve been wanting to go to Holy Communion for so long. I think I will go with him, go to confession, and get myself back to the Sacraments.”

  17. chantgirl says:

    anilwang- that is a good suggestion. I remember before my husband had returned to confession, I would take the whole family to a Mass with confessions before and during Mass. I would then go stand in line for confessions. He would be angry if I ever suggested anything about going, so I never said anything, but just went. Eventually, the anger seemed to subside and he softened and eventually went on his own. Oh, and my little secret weapon was that I prayed to the Holy Family and St. Joseph in particular, for several years for my husband. I think the prayers of the saints made the difference.

  18. Catholicity says:

    We think we have to over-explain things, don’t we? If you don’t want to sound like a stuck up triumphalist (LOL!) ASK them a question instead of preaching at them about the dangers of damnation for unworthy reception of Holy Communion. Try this: “Hey Joe, you in a state of Grace so you can take Communion? I’d like you to get all the blessings you can out of this. Wanna come with me to confession?” Wow, I never pontificated once.

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    Actually this is a big problem and there’s a lot to it. Taking somebody aside to “set them straight” or “explain what they’re missing” very seldom accomplishes anything. People see right through it. People need more than this, and that “more” is often missing in Catholic parishes, which are less communities of faith than they are sacramental depots. This is the big problem and until it changes and there becomes such a thing as a grounded Catholic identity, grounded in all the richness of the analogy of faith-in a place and a group and a community, this “falling away” will continue to happen. Even when people know intellectually what’s what to a sufficient degree, they can often tell when there’s no “there” “there.” This really hangs some people up, and that’s not necessary illogical.

    When the “New Evangelization” takes hold, they’re going to find that it’s not enough to “supersize” (ala the hamburger joints) exactly what we now do. People have to be brought around to live the faith, and in order to do that there has to be a structure, an identity, a context to do that in, which is no longer present in Western culture. We have to rebuild it.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Another way to say what I intend to express: Knowing a fact is not necessarily understanding it. Having an idea is not necessarily having the ability to make it work in a given practical situation. Context and experience are almost always necessary, even in matters of faith and the practice of religion. We must work to provide and enrich context and experience, as well as knowledge, among the people in the Church. This prevents their “drifting away,” which is the leading cause for leaving the Church, according to the recent Pew report study.

    God made us so that we need context and experience as well as formal knowledge in order to really comprehend things and practice things and take them up in personal profession. It is not an affront to simply state the practicalities of how God made us. We’d get farther if we took these things into account when we approached tired or fallen-away or never-Catholics.

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