Do you know someone who has said this, or someone close who has left the Church? I do, including some close friends and relatives. Here are some of my thoughts on what I might say to them.
God is Calling. And He’s calling YOU!
“And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone!”Gen 2:18
Just as Jesus called the Apostles, he calls each one of us. (Mk 1:16-20, Mt 4:18-22, Lk 5:2-11). “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you.” (Jn 15:16) Think about how God called Moses and the prophets as well as his command to them and to the Apostles to preach God’s mercy to the world. When the people repented and came back to God, things got better; when they turned from him, things got worse. So, how are things going in your life; in the world? The world keeps doing all it can to remove God from life and things do not seem to improve. Sure, science continues to make advances, but are our lives really getting any better? How much do these advances make things better and how much worsens our situation. Perhaps there are some things which we just should not do. But, then, that would require us to have some moral guidance.
Too many people say too often that they don’t need “church” (or religion or organized worship, etc.) to acknowledge or worship God. A priest on EWTN noted that he hears that all too often. The truth of the matter is, without some organization and community they are prone too easily to lose their way. Furthermore, this is not what God intended. God made us to be social beings. God himself is social: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Genesis God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) God, the Word incarnate, came to earth, and became part of a family, the basic social unit. We are made in the image and likeness of God. And Jesus established a church on earth in order to draw people together to worship God, be a community (the communion of saints), support each other and the world, and to do God’s will.
“Another way in which we are like God is that we are social. Humans need community in order to live. Children who are abandoned by their families usually die. We also need community in order to allow our distinctive human gifts and qualities to flourish; people learn language, skills, and knowledge from each other, and cooperation within and among communities makes complex civilization possible.” Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., “How to Listen When God Is Speaking: A Guide for Modern-day Catholics”
Fr. Pacwa goes on, “It is precisely because of the unity of the human body that the diverse array of individual organs can work together. Christians who isolate themselves and who are not united with Jesus Christ and one another ironically risk losing their identity and becoming just like everyone else. Perhaps they fall into sin or strive only for material success. On the other hand, the more united we are to Christ and his Church, the more distinctive we become—because Christ has in mind exactly the mission or vocation he wants for us.” This is precisely one of the reasons we need to go to Church and avoid the “I don’t need Church” mentality.
In the Gospel of St. John Jesus goes to great lengths to describe himself as the true vine and we, his people, are the branches, and without him we will wither, die, and end up in the fire. (Jn 15:1-12) And Jesus’s people are not just his followers (Christians) but the entire world. Again, John tells us that Jesus was sent for the whole world. Jesus tells us that he has other sheep who are not of this fold who he must bring also so that there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:11-16) Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians tells us we are all parts of the one Body of Christ even though we are all different, with different talents and different purposes in life (also, Rom 12:3-8).
The Acts of the Apostles describes, among other things, the life of the early Church. It was a community: “And all who believed were together,” (Acts 2:44) and “day by day attending temple together.” (Acts 2:46)
Jesus established his Church on earth through the Apostles. Among the reasons for this is to provide mankind with a community, a social structure, through which he can grow in love of each other and in love of God. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20) The creed mentions the “communion of saints,” saints being the community of Christians, living and deceased. Even the secular community recognizes our need for social interaction, as John Donne states in his classic poem, “No Man is an Island.”
St. Augustine observed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Why, then, do some people say that they have no need of Church or religion? “Far better it is for you to say: “I am a sinner,” than to say: “I have no need of religion.” The empty can be filled, but the self-intoxicated have no room for God.” ~ Fulton J. Sheen
I guess for some, it might be that they have too many other interests so that it is just too difficult to take the time, even once per week, to devote some time to God. Perhaps they think they are better than that. I know a man who told me that the reason he stopped going to Church is because everyone there was a hypocrite. But aren’t we all in some way or another? We are all flawed by concupiscence as a result of original sin. So, that may be true, what he fails to realize is that it isn’t about him and the others (although mutual support in faith is an important part of faith life), but it is about him and God. So, what is important? “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) Perhaps, as Bishop Sheen notes, if they chose to follow God and his will as depicted in the deposit of faith held by the church, they wouldn’t be able to do as they please. “I did it my way” is the way of Satan, not doing it God’s way. Mother Angelica said, “Pride is so terrible, because we rebel against God Who always was and always will be. For us to rebel against God is just a big lie.”
Mutual support in our faith life is essential in today’s world where Christianity and faith in general are under attack continuously. We can’t hide in our cellars and pray alone in our houses. Look at the Apostles between the death of Christ and his resurrection. They were downcast and despondent. But they stayed together. Then the word of his resurrection came and he appeared, first to a few of the apostles, then to all and later even to a large group. His renewed presence strengthened them. But they still confined themselves to the upper room until the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost and gave them confidence and, most important, power. Call on the Holy Spirit for strength. Rely on the Spirit and Christ in others to strengthen you. Receive the sacraments for, they, too, bring not only grace, but strength.
“Jesus founded a church, an Ecclesia, an assembly, so that we would not be disciples alone.” (Fr. Raymond de Souza, 7 Last Words, EWTN presentation) This is what it comes down to. Additionally, Jesus is always calling to us, asking us to let him in. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:12). Jesus followed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, opening the scripture to them and, in the end, at the breaking of the bread, opening their hearts to the fullness of his message (although it will take the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to complete). “Were not our hearts burning within in us while he spoke with us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)
Has it been a long time since you went to church, to confession? Do you think God does not know that or that he does not know everything in your life? Do you think he can’t or won’t forgive you? WRONG! He knows you better than you know yourself. Do not put yourself outside God’s mercy. Mother Angelica once said, “It’s kind of an insult to God when you think your sins are greater than His mercy!” Are you afraid? Jesus told us, “Be not afraid.” Fr. Chris Alar of the Marian Fathers tells us, “Seriously, you could take all the sins ever committed in the history of the world, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, combine them all together, and throw your sins in, too, and all together they wouldn’t be a drop compared to the ocean that is God’s mercy.” Trust in Jesus, trust in his mercy. We recently celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, a day when Jesus’s mercy is poured out in abundance on all those seeking it. It’s not too late.
Jesus comes to meet you where you are, whether it’s on your own road to Emmaus or somewhere else on your life journey. Jesus walks with you even if you don’t see him. LOOK! He is there if only you will open your heart to him. Meet him face to face. He may be God, but he is also a real person. Greet him as a friend. He loves you and wants to be friends with you. But friendship is a two-way street. You have to open the door and let him in. Do Not Be Afraid! Look at the crucifix. He suffered and died for each and every one of us, suffering an unimaginably cruel death. Only love itself would go to such lengths for you.
As St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, “You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.”
“God is love.” (1 Jn 4:16) Time for you to return to that love.