Those people who leave the Church over little things

People leave the Church for all kinds of reasons. Usually it’s more than one reason; but sometimes people will be able to point to the one thing that tipped them over the edge. Very often, it’s the sex abuse scandal. But also fairly often, it’s something that sounds less serious. It sounds like something that people should be able to get past:

“I was going through a rough time in my marriage and a priest gave a jerky sermon about divorce, so I walked out and never came back.”

“I was trying to organize my grandmother’s funeral, and the parish secretary was so rude, and even mocked the music I chose. That was the last time I set foot in a church.”

“I was in the back with my crying baby, and an usher angrily told me to control my kid. I decided if they didn’t want me, I didn’t want them either, and that was that.”

These things are upsetting and demoralizing, and can legitimately make us angry. But are they worth leaving the Church over?

When someone tells stories like these, other Catholics will often respond: Well, if you’d leave Jesus and the sacraments for something small like that, it shows that your faith was weak and shallow to begin with. If you leave the Church because of sinners, your faith was in man, not God.

I used to believe this. I no longer do. Or at least, I see a bigger picture of why humans — including me — do what they do.

Don’t get me wrong. When someone decides to leave the Faith, there couldn’t be more at stake. It’s one thing if someone decides they’re quitting their tech job and taking up weaving, or they’re tired of Twitter and they’re giving up social media. I may think they’re making a mistake, but they can live with the consequences.

But when you hear that someone has had enough of the Church, it’s so hard not to say, “Yes, but . . . don’t you want Jesus? I know that one Catholic you met was so cruel and awful, and I’m so sorry that happened, but are you really prepared to give up Jesus, just because of that? This is your immortal soul we’re talking about! Eyes on the prize! Get over it!”

But it occurs to me that everyone’s priorities are skewed — people who leave the Church because of the sins of other humans, but also people who stay in the Church because of the goodness of other humans.

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Image via Piqsels (Creative Commons)

You can always come back

One Sunday afternoon, I posted on Facebook:

“Reasons the Fishers left their pew this morning:
Had to go to the bathroom.
Also had to go to the bathroom.
Had to check ketones and bolus.
Had to go to the bathroom after all.
Had to take migraine meds.
Had to get to work.
Had to leave the building entirely because, while the four-year-old could behave herself, her puppy Crystal could not.
BUT WE ALL CAME BACK EVENTUALLY.”

I’m not sure how the other parishioners feel, but I have no problem with this level of traffic during Mass. We’d rather keep a lighter grip on the reins, and let the kids do what they need to do, as long as they always come back. And we do always come back.

When I was a teenager, I also didn’t sit in the pew. I did come to Mass with my parents, because they expected it, but I never made it as far as the pew. I would lurk sulkily in the back of the church, glowering at the little red votive candles as they flickered in their cups. Sometimes I would sit on the steps to the choir loft, my head between my knees, hating every moment of it. I never prayed, I never went to confession. I chose the path of misery for years, rather than sit in the pew.

And you know, I eventually came back. Look at me now! I’m so Catholic, the Jehovah’s Witnesses barely even try. I’m sure my parents were worried when I started to stray as a teenager, but they knew they were playing the long game. They kept a pretty loose grip on the reins, and I think that’s a good principle.

Almost as if to illustrate this principle: During that same Mass I described above, where my family spent most of the hour coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing, the pastor made an announcement: An elderly couple in the parish would have their marriage convalidated. They’d been in a civil marriage for many years but had recently come back to the Church . . .

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Image: Public Domain