Dear Fallen-Away Catholics: 10 Things You Should Know About What You Left Behind

Dear Fallen-Away Catholics,

Perhaps you left the Church because you disagreed with some doctrine. Or maybe you just gradually stopped going to Mass. Or maybe it was some combination of the two. Either way, you’re gone, and we really miss you and wish you would come back.

I myself never really discovered Catholicism until my mid-teenage years. I was really a fallen-away Catholic right from the get-go because I come from a family of fallen-away Catholics. My attendance at Mass and CCD was very spotty growing up. Then, just when I was ready to completely leave the Church, I experienced a powerful conversion that changed my life through the grace of God.

I say this to highlight the fact that I have not always been a devout Catholic. In no way do I desire to talk down to you or judge you, because I know how you feel. I was there. With that out of the way, I present to you the top ten things I wish I had known about Catholicism earlier.

10. CCD doesn’t even scratch the surface. Remember those dull days sitting in a church basement while some catechist read boring stuff to you and you wanted to be doing literally anything else? Well, that’s not Catholicism. Oftentimes, parishioners are pressured into teaching CCD and they might not be super well-informed about the faith themselves. Further, the materials used in CCD don’t get to the juicy stuff. Our faith is not merely a moral system, which is what CCD often reduces it to. There’s so more to it. Dive in. For AP-level CCD, visit this site.

9. The secular world biases us. This happens subconsciously. How often do secular news sources take a certain slant on the goings-on in the Church? How often do teachers and even some textbooks reveal their own biases and opinions on matters regarding the Church? Pretty soon, you have this general sense that Catholicism is just plain wrong, but you can’t point to any super specific examples because everything happened so subconsciously. I know because that is precisely what had happened to me. Here’s a challenge: next time the Church is in the news, read a secular article about it from, say the New York Times, and then read an article about it from a Catholic news source, such as the Catholic News Agency. Note the differences in assumptions the articles make and the topics they choose to focus on, as well as general themes.

8. You are allowed to question Catholic doctrine. In no way do I intend to belittle Catholic doctrine. What I mean to say is that you can and should look into the doctrines. You’re smart and you want answers to why the Church teaches what she does. I didn’t realize the following for a long time: the Church actually has reasons for her teachings. Her teachings are not arbitrary. Explanations of Catholic doctrine are widely available all over the Internet. Another important corollary point here: it’s okay if you have trouble accepting a doctrine. You can’t just flip a switch and say, “Yes, I accept this wholeheartedly.” You could say that, but it might not be genuine. Just be open to the possibility that Catholic doctrine x is true. You deserve time to research, think, and pray about it. God gave you reasoning capacities and a conscience; you were made to seek Truth.

7. There are passionate Catholics out there. It seems like a lot of Catholics are not passionate about their faith. Beyond Mass, participation levels in parish life can be quite low. With this sort of atmosphere, one can start to wonder if there’s something wrong with Catholicism. I come from one of the most irreligious states in the country, and even I’ve been able to find passionate Catholics here. There are many Catholics who are truly on fire for their faith, and the impact Catholicism has had on their lives is incredible: you just have to look in the right places. Go to a retreat or a Bible study, or volunteer at your parish. You’ll find them.

6. You don’t want to make your spiritual journey alone. We live in the age of the “spiritual but not religious” movement. Those with this mindset reject organized religion and espouse a merely personal spirituality. Before I truly discovered Catholicism, I kind of had some sort of a spiritual life going on, and I didn’t think I needed an organization of some sort to help me achieve my spiritual goals. Then when I became an active part of my parish, I realized how much more progress I made when I was with others and under the guidance of the Church. When we want to make academic progress, we go to a college where we earn a degree by fulfilling the requirements of our institution and learning from those wiser than us. No one questions this. Likewise, when we want to make spiritual progress, we go to a church where we follow moral teachings to the best of our ability and learn from those wiser than us. Further, having Catholic friends will help you stay on the straight and narrow.

5. Priests are sinners too. Many Catholics left the Church because of the sex abuse scandals and the Church’s response to them. Indeed, these scandals were a dark point in the history of the Catholic Church, and my heart goes out to all the victims. Naturally, people wondered, “How can we be part of a church whose leaders are so corrupt?” The sins of the priests who committed these crimes certainly delegitimized Catholicism in the minds of many. I’d like to make an important point here: priests are sinners too. In no way does that excuse their behavior, but it make it clearer how Catholicism can still be legitimate even when certain clergy have made serious mistakes. The Church is run by humans, and humans mess up. We can’t look at our clergy as gods on earth because that’s not what they are. Priest confess their sins to their fellow priests, by the way. Pope Francis goes to Confession too. Also, a side note: according to this article from the Washington Post, about 4% of priests are sex offenders. Again, I’m not excusing any of their crimes, but also according to this article, this proportion is consistent with estimates of sex offenders in other similar fields and other religions. What I mean to say is, it’s inexcusable that sex abuse happens, but it’s not a problem limited to the Catholic clergy.

4. The Catholic Church, est. 33 AD. The Catholic Church is old. We have an extremely rich body of teachings that have been in the making for 2000 years. So many brilliant minds (St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!) have been refining Catholic teachings for many, many years. Catholicism is “the original,” so to speak. Here’s how it went down: Jesus started His Church in 33 AD (but he didn’t call it that–it was the group of all his followers). The Church flourished an grew under an unbroken line of popes, beginning with St. Peter, His disciple. Then in 1517, Martin Luther decided the Church had been getting it wrong for 1500 years. (His disagreements went beyond the corruption in the Church at the time–that’s something your high school history class doesn’t usually mention. He disagreed with many intellectual points as well.) With Martin Luther came the Reformation, which saw the creation of various Protestant denominations that changed doctrines that had been in place since the earliest days of the Church. Basically, if you want to experience Christ’s Church as close as it was to when He started it, you need to be Catholic. (For more insight into what the early Church was like, I recommend the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch (circa 110 AD), St. Justin the Martyr (circa 110-165 AD), and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 140-202 AD), just for starters.)

3. Catholicism is *really* intellectual. Sometimes religion is viewed as childish because it seems to require adherents to blindly follow rules. Hopefully it’s become evident from my earlier points that this is simply not the case with Catholicism. We have a vast body of 2000 years of writings that explain why we believe what we believe. Some of these writings get into some really hardcore philosophy. To see what I mean, try reading St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

2. Mass is really exciting when you know what’s going on. Before I truly discovered Catholicism, what I hated most about the Church was the Mass. It seemed so boring! What I was really lacking was proper context. I didn’t understand that the whole Mass is really centered around the miracle of the Eucharist. I didn’t understand that the Eucharist is a miracle. I had no context for any of the Scripture readings. I didn’t understand that the Mass is centuries old. It was kind of like walking into a movie for the last 5 minutes and trying to understand what was going on.

1. The Eucharist IS Jesus. This is, I would say, the mosimportant Catholic teaching. And somehow, I never learned this in CCD. (As I mentioned before, CCD totally does not scratch the surface.) As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist really is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. At communion, we are literally eating Jesus. Upon hearing this, this sounds repulsive and somewhat batty. How could we be eating Jesus if communion clearly looks like bread? And do we really want to eat Jesus? Doesn’t that sound like cannibalism? There is so much to say about the mystery of the Eucharist. And, as I’ve mentioned time and time again in this post, we have 2000 years of brilliant minds that have given us the resources to understand why we believe what we believe. Below I’ve compiled some of the resources on the Eucharist that helped me the most as I was learning about this sacred mystery.

How what looks like bread can actually be Jesus

    Summary: Using Aristotle’s metaphysical theories (which were in place long before the time of Christ), while the Eucharist has the accidents of bread and wine, their substance changes from bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ when the priest utters the words of consecration. Basically, the appearance of the bread and wine remains the same while what it actually is changes. 

The Biblical basis for the Eucharist

Summary: Jesus tells us to eat of His Body and Blood. When those listening to Him leave in response, He doesn’t stop them and say, “It was just a symbol!!” Instead, He repeats Himself three times. 

The Old Testament foreshadowing of the Eucharist

Summary: Jesus’s sacrifice mirrors the Passover sacrifice of the Old Testament. For Passover, Jews sacrifice a lamb and then eat it for the forgiveness of their sins. Likewise, Jesus sacrifices Himself for the forgiveness of our sins, and we eat Him, the new lamb. 

What the Church Fathers thought of the Eucharist

Summary: The early Church believed in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. 

Eucharistic Miracles

Summary: Sometimes, miraculously, the Eucharist visually turns into flesh and blood.

Anyway, it’s my hope that this post has sparked your interest in Catholicism. Catholicism has made such a massive difference in my life for the better; let it transform your life too.

Yours Truly,

A Young-Adult Catholic

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Why the environment was such a great encyclical topic

I must say, Pope Francis’s latest encyclical focuses on the perfect topic: the environment. While I’ve seen a lot of commentary on the content of what Laudato Si says, I haven’t seen a great deal of commentary on the choice of topic.

Here’s why I think the environment was such a good topic for the encyclical:

1. Liberals love it. Not that we’re trying to appease liberals. It’s just that liberals don’t seem to know that the church isn’t purely conservative; they know we don’t like abortion, so all the sudden we’re Republicans. (I’ve talked more about the downfalls of the bipartisan system here.) Pope Francis’s concern for the environment helps show that Catholicism is not as one-dimensional as people sometimes think.

2. It shows that Catholicism is smart. Oddly, there seems to be this perception that either you believe in the Big Bang or you believe in creationism. Psych! A Catholic priest devised the Big Bang Theory. For realz. Anyway, the Catholic Church believes in one Truth. So, if we find something is true by science, it must also fit into the truth of faith. Now, the Big Bang theory seems to be a good scientific explanation of why the universe is expanding. In no way does the Big Bang theory solve the entire issue of creation though!! The question then becomes, “Who/What propagated the Big Bang?” Who/What created the matter in the universe? Perplexing, huh? Catholics do not read the creation stories of Genesis literally like many Protestant groups do, i.e., we need not believe God created the world in 7 days. The important thing to take away from those stories is that He is the Creator of the universe. In this sense, creationism and the Big Bang theory are entirely compatible.

3. It promotes world peace. Pope Francis’s call to safeguard Creation is a group effort. He talks a lot about the connectedness of the world. We’re all in this together; we need to cooperate if we’re going to pass on a healthy earth for the next generation.

4. It takes a stance that most people agree with. Again, we aren’t trying to agree with the world though. But people are more likely to read something they agree with. For example, if Pope Francis had written about the sanctity of marriage, most non-Catholics would just say, “Ew. There goes that antiquated church again.” Of course, I don’t mean to diss the Catholic stance on the sanctity of marriage; in fact, I agree with it. It’s just that the environment is not so controversial. The common non-Catholic might actually read some of this encyclical. And then they will be swept off their feet by the beauty of the holistic treatment of the environment from a Christian perspective. Most people don’t really think about the environment in terms of God. This encyclical is changing that. What I’m trying to say is that it could have more of an impact in drawing people to the Church.

Read Laudato Si here on the Vatican website.

Conversion, Reconciliation, and Transformation

“And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an excerpt from the Prayer of Absolution that the priest says at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At this point, you’ve confessed your sins to the priest in persona Christi (ie, in the person of Christ; read: you’re really confessing your sins to Jesus). This prayer washes you clean of your sins, lets you start anew, lets you move on, makes you know and feel the mercy of Christ.

When I’m at college, I spend most of my social time around other Catholics, so I’m basically immersed in Catholic thought. It’s always striking when I get home and notice the stark contrasts between secular and Catholic thought. (No one else in my immediate family (or even extended family, really) is a practicing Catholic–read about my conversion story here.)

Secular and Catholic thought really diverge on the subject of reconciliation. Most notably, Catholic thought asserts that people can change. I’ve observed that many (though not all, of course) in the secular realm seem to think that someone with a troubled past could not possibly have changed. These people continue to be labeled by the sins of their past. This is entirely unfair, as people can change, especially with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

So many of the Church’s saints were extreme sinners at one time, and then drastically changed when their hearts were converted to Christ. Take St. Augustine, for example. Pre-conversion Augustine was, in today’s terminology, a playboy. Then, when he converted to Christ, he changed drastically and eventually became a saint. St. Augustine understood how people could change because he experienced it himself. He said,

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

Today’s world seems not to know what St. Augustine knew. I think that anyone who has experienced first-hand the transformative power of the Holy Spirit knows that people change. I think that the secular world copes with this misunderstanding in two ways (of course, generalizations are never entirely accurate; not everyone with a secular mindset has this ideology):

  1. When people recognize others as sinners, they label them as such (because radical change seems impossible).
  2. When people sin, they try to convince themselves that they actually haven’t sinned (because there’s no mode of redemption).

I think the mainstream culture would be shocked to know that Catholicism advocates moving on from the sins of our past. Everyone always talks about “Catholic guilt” which, tbh, I don’t understand. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we are redeemed in Christ, which we experience first hand through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sure, we should be horrified by our sins, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we should also know that we are made new and that we can change with God’s help.

The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis

I am currently reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and let me just say, IT IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!!! I highly recommend it. Anyway, I really want to make a post about it, except my own paraphrasing wouldn’t do it justice. So I’m going to utilize quotes–C.S. Lewis has a wonderful way of putting things.

C.S. Lewis on why God exists:

“…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.” (i.e. a common sense of right and wrong; conscience; natural law)

“The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other….You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.”

“If there were a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe….The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.”

In other words, the fact that an absolute Right exists and that it is implanted within us shows that God exists. It also shows that He is the source of all goodness.

C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

“But how had I got the this idea of just and unjust? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the who show was bad and senseless from A to Z…why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?” (i.e. this idea of just and unjust could only come from God)

C.S. Lewis on the Complexity of Religion

“It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple.”

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. … If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.”

C.S. Lewis on the Divinity of Christ

“Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse [Satan].” (i.e. someone who claims to be the Son of God is either A) who He says He is, B) crazy, or C) the devil)

i.e. READ THIS BOOK!

Catholic Humor #7

Here’s a joke for ya from http://www.fisheaters.com/jokes.html:

Jesus was walking along one day, when He came upon a group of people surrounding a lady of ill repute. It was obvious that the crowd was preparing to stone her, so Jesus made His now-famous statement, “Let the person who has no sin cast the first stone.”

The crowd was shamed and one by one began to turn away. All of a sudden, a lovely little woman made her way through the crowd. Finally getting to the front, she tossed a pebble towards the woman.

Jesus looks over and says, “I really hate it when you do that, Mom.”

~taken from: http://www.fisheaters.com/jokes.html

Challenge Yourself Spiritually!

When we experience personal growth in any facet of life, that growth didn’t just come out of nowhere.

“I was passing the days solely sleeping, watching TV, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, you know, all the things that bring me personal comfort. Didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. And then as a result of this careful preparation, I discovered the meaning of life as I sat on my couch eating Doritos and watching ‘The Hangover,'”

SAID NO ONE EVER!

Growth is usually the result of some sort of challenge in our life. Let’s look at it from a non-religious angle:

When I was 11, my dad said we had to move 7 hours away! It was a really, really difficult time for me. In retrospect, I see that this change in my life helped me to be more adaptable. It also helped me to realize that the “unknown” isn’t that scary after all.

There are so many challenges that pop up in the lives of teens today. Examples include: moving, death of a loved one, divorce of parents, academics, drama with friends, bullying, body image, etc.
Usually these challenges ultimately lead to some sort of personal growth after some reflection.

So, if we want to advance in our spiritual lives, what are doing just staying in our comfort zones!? We need to challenge ourselves! And I think Catholicism offers so many excellent challenges that lead to spiritual growth.

Reconciliation. Is that comfortable? No– admitting sins isn’t terribly comfortable. But we grow so much when we realize God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We realize how much we need Him in our lives. Sounds like growth!

The Real Presence. Comfortable? No– you saw how so many people left Jesus in John 6 when He was basically like, “Guys, you gotta eat me if you want life in you. No, seriously. For the third time, I mean it.” But through receiving Christ in the Eucharist and resting in His presence at Eucharistic Adoration, we come to understand how amazing He is. Growth- check!

The Obligation to go to Mass every week and on days of Holy Obligation. Comfortable? Not 100% of the time. Some days we just don’t FEEL like going to Mass. But by going, we commit ourselves to God. We suppress our human desire to be lazy, realizing that God is more important. Yay growth!

Required days of fasting (Ash Wed and Good Fri for Catholics 18 and over) and abstinence (no meat on Fridays during Lent and on Ash Wed). Comfortable? No– Most people love eating. But by following what the Church has outlined for us, we understand that our carnal desires aren’t everything and that God is worth the suffering (even though it’s actually not TOO much suffering when you consider that people go hungry EVERY day of their lives in third world countries). Growth: now dat’s what I’m talkin’ about!

The list continues.

Sometimes things like fasting and the obligation to go to Mass get dismissed as unnecessary “works.”

James 2:17–
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

AMEN! You say it James!

You can have faith in Christ, but if you aren’t doing things to show it and further it…sounds like a pretty dead spiritual life with a paucity of personal growth on the side.

So go out there and challenge yourself this summer!!

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI