Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Lapsed

Lapsed Catholics what do you do about them? A friend of mine talking about a huge family in his parish said, "I have been in their house in the last three years far more than they have been in God's house. They say it was my predecessor who put them "off", but he used to go every week for three months to prepare their sick grandfather to prepare him for reception into the Church".

I took a couple of parishioners, at vast expense to a concert a few month ago, they had been a bit shakey in their practice before that, but I haven't seen them since.

I don't know if it is my lack of visiting skills but rarely have I managed to bring back a lapsed Catholic by visiting them.

What statistics there are, no-one seems to have done a serious study, seem to indicate most people stop coming to Mass when there is a change in there lives or a change in the Church, most especially a change in parish priest, or a change in Mass times.

Those who do not practice, invariably suggest they haven't lost their faith, they just don't see the point in coming to Mass anymore. It could be that they have never seen the point in coming, that despite years in Catholic education, years coming to Mass they have never bought into what the Church understands by the Mass.

I think that during Lent we are going to have a period of Exposition for the lapsed and get people to sign-up to do some extra penance for their return.


George said...

The last bit in your post Fr Ray is the answer - Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Prayer.

The prayers of St Monica brought back a 'very lapsed' St Augustine! And there are many more such examples in the books about our wonderful Saints.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father, you might be interested in this from the CASE website.

torchofthefaith said...

Dear Father

That Adoration idea sounds just the ticket!

And all the other things that you are trying - visiting, socialising, witnessing to the truth and indeed offering the Holy Sacrifice with devotion and dignity.

At times we get quite down when we've tried all manner of things and folks don't seem to respond. Lately, such trials have brought us more and more to the fact that the faith is a gift and all we can really do is ask for the lapsed and the unbelievers to be given it and also to ask like beggars for an increase of it in our own lives.

Also - becoming more an icon of Christ - and WE'VE definitely got to ask for the gift and work at the task of that one!

On the other hand the Church - especially in our lands - needs to reform and to do so fast! One of the things that is both putting people off and giving them a false sense that they don't even need to come to Mass is the spread of false teaching, dissent, disunity, injustice, irreverence and a distinct lack of warmth and love in many places today. If these things are such a trial to those of us who - by God's Grace - do continue to practice then they clearly are to those who observe them from the edges.

Of course we all have to clean our own house first - and continually with the Sacraments, prayer and growth in awareness of one's reality before God. But we also know people who have left through being hurt, experiencing some of the above, or plain lied to in the sense that they've been told by priests that Mass is now optional or that the devil even gets to heaven in the end... Such patent - and prevalent - heresy confuses the little ones.

Thanks for all you do Father - in the parish and on the blog. It keeps a lot more people going than you'll perhaps know this side of the veil!

In Christ
Alan and Angeline

Delia said...

Had you thought of asking Father John Edwards SJ to give a mission in your parish, Father? He is so good and doesn't charge anything, apart from bed and board. You can contact him at Farm Street.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is my lack of visiting skills but rarely have I managed to bring back a lapsed Catholic by visiting them.

And then you'll get people saying that the reason why they don't go to Mass is because father never visits.

Any excuse will do.

A big problem in both GB and Australia is that religion is just not on most people's radar. It's not like in the USA where offices have bible studies at lunchtime and you and your mate will argue over bible verses. In Australia and GB people just don't care. How to make them care I don't know. The time to get people to care was in Catholic school. Catholic education has been faux Catholic for a generation now and the parents of the kids in Catholic schools don't have the Faith to pass on and the kids certainly aren't getting the real deal in school. Why would you love a Faith you don't know anything about except that it is against everything you want to do and remember the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Had Fr John here a couple of times.

Volpius Leonius said...

"I don't know if it is my lack of visiting skills but rarely have I managed to bring back a lapsed Catholic by visiting them."

The time to visit them is before they lapse Father, by the time they have lapsed the damage is done, you can't expect to undo years of neglect in one visit, I'm sure your visiting skills are fine, in fact just visiting at all is the most important thing. You cannot combat 24/7 secularism in an afternoon, not without a very special grace from God anyway.

People do not respect desperation and that is what the sudden flurry of attention they get when they lapse is taken as. Whatever little respect they had left for the Church is lost in those final moments, people do not beg someone to take their greatest treasure,
and that is what the Faith is or should be to us.

And your right about change, for people barely hanging on to Catholicism any change at all can be the excuse their ego needs to justify ceasing the practice altogether. Such people often broke communion with the Church internally, or even never had that inner communion to begin with and the change gave them the excuse they were looking for to justify breaking the communion in the externals as well. This is also the reason they will often insist they are still Catholic even though they are not, been Catholic is part of their identity but they do not want to have to do the duties that come along with it.

Their conscience wont let them admit that they have ceased to be what they once were, and so instead we find people insisting they are still Catholic while making all kinds of desperate excuses for why they don't live as they should if that was true.

The cure for such people is in my opinion an emphases on the four last things and that they will almost certainly go to hell if they do not return to the practice of their religion. While such insistence will probably initially meet with anger you will also have planted a seed in their mind which may well grow and blossom at some point in the future.

Of course prevention is better than cure, teaching them to PRACTICE the Faith is all important, much more so than learning the whys and wherefores, though these to have their place. Faith does not require understanding after all it only requires trust in God.

Anonymous said...

Adoration's a fab idea.

I think Victoria's right. It just doesn't mean anything to most people.

I've had green scapulars blessed for those who've lapsed in my family, say the prayer for them, and rosaries, and trust that one day they will discover just what they've been missing. Praying for them really is the most useful thing I think I can do for them. As well as, funnily enough, making me feel less personally responsible and powerless :)

GOR said...

"I don't know if it is my lack of visiting skills..."

I expect that is something all priests worry about at times, Father. But even Our Lord didn't convert everyone He spoke to - nor did the Apostles!

Lapsed Catholics can be the toughest to deal with as they have had the Faith and probably lost it. Deep down, I suspect, they are aware of this and know it is their own fault but they are not ready to 'put things right'. It is probably in their minds to do this eventually - sometime way in the future, on their deathbed, perhaps.

Many years ago I was chaplain to a hospital in Northern England. Back then chaplains received daily lists of admissions of people of their faith (I suspect that is no longer the case...) and you did your daily 'rounds' based on the list.

One day there was a man there whom I knew was lapsed and was living with a 'common law' wife. He was dying. When I visited him, he would have nothing to do with me and became more and more agitated as I tried to talk with him, eventually ordering me to leave. I gave him a blessing and left.

That night the man died. I was not called - as I normally would have been - and didn't find out until the next day. He had given instructions that I was not to be called.

Could I have gotten through to him with better 'visiting skills'...? Maybe, maybe not. There were some devils that even the Apostles couldn't cast out.

In these cases all we can do is pray and commend people to the Mercy of God.

But there will always be the question in our minds: did I do enough? Only God knows and He is also aware of our weakness and our need for His grace.

Anonymous said...

Last couple of weeks I've been to Church of Christ the King, an evangelical church off London Road and have met 2 baptised Catholics who have left the Church to join them on Sundays and are active participants in their ministry to the homeless. While their faith is very evident I found it depressing that they no longer loved the Catholic Church and felt more 'comfortable' there.

Physiocrat said...

In my experience the biggest falls in mass attendance occurred when there was a change of incumbent who introduced the vernacular liturgy. I have seen this happen in at least three parishes locally. The incumbent had become an encumbrance.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago when I was in the Legion of Mary I remember having the task of knocking on the doors of the local parish and ascertaining whether any of the occupants were Catholic. We went out in twos and presumably our visits were followed up by the three Priests of the parish if we came across any lapsed Catholics unknown to the parish.

It was a strange experience and not always pleasant although I do remember one amusing meeting. The door was opened by a harassed mum surrounded by several very young noisy children. When we explained our purpose her reply was 'I don't know why but we are always being asked if we are Catholic and I assure you we are not!'

epsilon said...

Thanks to Catholic Rights blog for the brilliant quote from Fr Dwight Longenecker:
"If we must fight, then we must never do so with bitterness, dirty tricks, cynicism or hatred. Instead we battle with the prayerful, cheerful, buoyance of the cavalier. We must don our armor, sharpen our sword and, like Cyrano deBergerac, step into battle with wit, intelligence and confidence. Like the mouse Reepicheep we do so with honor, valour and not a little awareness of our own ridiculousness. "

I'm looking forward to the response from our parish council for my request for Rosary before Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. With the difficult times many are on the brink of, what better service to provide to people than to make available a space to pray in a sacred environment!

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I was lucky enought to live in a parish a few years ago where the priest was a big believer in daily Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. (Such a pleasant change from the locked doors of most Catholic churches!)

The priest had a poster in the church porch extolling the benefits of perpetual Adoration which quoted an American study that showed that the crime rate went down in parishes where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed during the day.

Clare said...

Penance tasks sounds a wonderful idea for Lent. Can you put singing in the St Mary Magdalen choir on the list of tasks?

Btw, l think you are much better with the lapsed than you give yourself credit for. I can think of a few people who have started coming to mass at St Mary Magdalen's after years of lapsation and have reclaimed their faith. So there.

Michael Clifton said...

In general the main reason why people lose their faith is either because they never had a proper grasp of it or because they get entrapped by the "Joys" of this world. Refer to the parable of Our Lord and the sower spreading his seed. Those with no firm grasp of the faith are those where the seed fell on stony ground and withered while the attraction of the world is found in the seed which grows up in thorny ground and is smothered by weed. The only answer as commenters say is through prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Terry Nelson said...

Keep visiting Father. Your interior life will shine through your smile and your acceptance of them just where they are at will give them courage. Have a tea or a beer with them, say a prayer, and tell them you see them again soon. Without your visit, they may think the Church doesn't care about them. God bless you. I will pray for you.

Anonymous said...

Here are some links to a couple of St. Monica Sodality groups in the USA. The members meet regularly for prayer and Holy Mass for the return of lapsed Catholics. I hope that many others will be motivated to start their own local chapters around the world.



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