Many people return to the Church after a period of non-attendance, as they sense a spiritual emptiness in their lives, a space that only God can fill. But many more would probably return if only they knew they were missed and wanted back. Whatever the reason that someone stopped practicing their Catholic faith in the past, they should be assured of a warm welcome on return.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle many face in taking up the practice of their faith again is a feeling of guilt. But this does not come from Christ, who was known for his welcome to sinners. Jesus understands completely, even more than themselves, why they left the Church and why they may like to return.
Difficulties may include sore memories of the Church: a feeling of fear before Confession (better known today as Reconciliation); an argument with a parishioner about crying children; a sermon they took exception to; or it may be issues over gender or teaching on marriage.
Having questions about various aspects of Catholic faith and life is perfectly normal, since faith will always be a challenge to our purely human ways of thinking and acting as also our attempts to talk about God which are always inadequate.
Like any family, the Church can sometimes bruise as well as comfort but the Church is acutely aware today of being far from perfect, especially under the leadership of Pope Francis who lays such stress on forgiveness and reliance on God’s grace which we all need if we are to put hurts and failures behind us and go forward with our pilgrim Church in the hope that things will be better.
As Christmas approaches, I ask you to give this page some thought and prayer and then discuss it with a friend or family member who has stopped coming regularly to Mass and invite them to come home for Christmas.
Simply assure our friend that no matter what the obstacle or difficulties they are always welcome in Church and able to discuss any matter troubling them with one of the priests.
Don’t be afraid to invite them. Remember that God has no messenger other than you.
But do more than simply invite. Returning after an absence can be daunting so accompany them back, at least initially.