I admit it: I love Disney World. My parents took me as a child and my wife and I have taken our kids a few times. The theme parks make me reminisce about the fun adventures I enjoyed as a young boy and I experience a degree of nostalgic longing every spring for my family to experience Mickey and friends once again.
Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about “Catholic” stuff? Indeed.
I shared my somewhat embarrassing admission about Disney World because of an epiphany I once had at Easter Mass. As I looked around the packed church filled with faces I had never seen before, I wondered what drew these “Christmas and Easter” Catholics (as I have heard them described) to our parish? All of our Masses were packed that day, just as they will be this weekend. What draws this group of people to Mass these two special days each year? I believe they are experiencing a nostalgic longing similar to the one I feel every year about Disney World. The Christmas and Easter seasons still register for them as important days to attend Mass. They are connected enough to their Catholic faith to realize the significance of celebrating the birth and resurrection of Christ, even if they may not attend any other Masses the rest of the year.
I wonder why they no longer practice their faith and what made them fall away. I am curious about why they make the effort on these two days to dress up and come to Mass. Is it because they are looking for something or more importantly, Someone? Are their hearts restless and their lives empty? Do they secretly long for the Church of their childhood memories the way I do about Disney World?
Let me challenge all of us to stop making fun of these brothers and sisters in Christ, as we will likely see hundreds of new faces in our parish this weekend. Let’s stop calling Christmas and Easter the “Bi-Annual Catholic Reunion”. In fact, I would suggest to you that we should be ashamed of ourselves. We have all heard of the “New Evangelization”, right? We are supposed to reach outto those who have already been evangelized and share again with them the Good News. Well, we have countless thousands of Catholics who are not actively practicing their faith marching into our parishes twice a year and we are doing very little to win them back. This group is possibly the most fertile ground for our evangelization efforts. How can we help them?
Five Ways We Can Help
- Pray – Let’s include in our daily prayers a prayer that every Catholic who has fallen away will begin to actively practice their faith, just as we pray for other critical areas in our lives.
- Make the way to Christ and the Catholic Church attractive and inviting. This one really hits home because we have to look inside ourselves and ask some difficult questions. Do people see the light of Christ when they look at us? Do we live out our faith in such a joyful way that we make the Catholic Church welcoming and appealing? Are we actually doing what we are asking them to do?
- Stop judging… Engage, listen and love more. Let’s not stand with our arms crossed and a scowl on our faces when we encounter Catholics who have fallen away from the Church. We are not perfect and have no right to judge. Let’s engage them at every opportunity and simply listen. Based on what they share we need to offer a loving response and help them find their way back. Caution: We may hear some very difficult and angry responses. If so, help connect them to a knowledgeable deacon or parish priest for help and guidance.
- Extend an invitation. This seems obvious, but when was the last time we invited someone we know who has fallen away from the Church to attend Mass with us? If they are not ready, start with a bible study or prayer group or simply keep investing and praying until they are ready to make this important step.
- Direct them to the Catholics Come Home website (www.CatholicsComeHome.org). This ministry’s sole purpose is to help people come back to the Church. The website provides outstanding Church resources and answers to difficult problems.
This may be helpful information, but how do we actually identify these “C & E” Catholics? Is Christmas and Easter the only time we will see them? No! They are all around us. They work with us, they are our neighbors and we probably see them at our kid’s sporting events. However, we will never know about their faith unless we ask. Sound intimidating? Start by talking about our own lives, where we work, our families, the parish we attend, etc. Transparency invites transparency and by sharing first, we can draw them into a meaningful dialogue which involves faith. Our parish priests and deacons may also be able to direct us to people who are struggling with their faith or left the Church. From here we can jump into the five actions listed above.
I know this is not easy, but I promise you someone from a Protestant church is likely talking to a Catholic about having a personal relationship with Jesus even as you read this. They are describing the incredible music and wonderful sermons as they extend a warm invitation to attend their churches. Meanwhile, here we are in the Church Christ founded, possessing the fullness of the Faith and the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the most personal relationship you can have with Christ!)… and we are making a mediocre effort.
Let’s do something about the Disney-like longing Christmas and Easter Catholics may be experiencing and help them return to an active practice of our beautiful faith. We haven’t even addressed those who have left the Church and never come back or the billions of non-Catholics in the world. We are called to help everyone we encounter get to Heaven. Let’s reflect and pray today on how we are responding to that call.