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What would it take to get you back in the pews? I don’t want an argument about the existence of God. This post is for the “fallen away,” the backsliders, the indifferent, and uncommitted who otherwise believe God is out there and takes an interest in us.
I was in that camp for better than the first half of my life. In fact, I was a pretty strident atheist, believing religion was just a way for the patriarchy to get in our underwear, blah, blah, blah…
Having kids made a difference for me. And, that was before I knew my girls had serious health conditions. Something about being responsible for the next generation gave me pause about what I thought I knew. My political conversion to conservatism and religious reversion to (cradle-)Catholicism were gradual and coincidental.
First came my intellectual assent. I know some very smart people who say faith can’t be a matter of reason. I differ strongly. I figured if it was good enough for William F. Buckley and John Paul II (and, later, when I learned about Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine), maybe my comparatively little mind should give it a chance. I tried on a Christian denomination (Methodist), but, while I loved the people and felt welcomed, the lack of Sacraments didn’t suit me. I needed the full immersion of my senses — smells and bells.
I ended up in a large parish with a charismatic pastor who invited me to take up Bible study with a group of ladies on Tuesday mornings. I went in expecting to be underwhelmed by the experience. I thought, “none of these (older) gals were smart enough to be engineers (like me) and, so, they must be pretty simple-minded and have a simple faith.” The experience was humbling. Sure, there are some people of simple faith in Bible study, but that turned out to be inspiring in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And there was more than enough smarts and wisdom to go around. I couldn’t even find my way through the scripture references for the first two years, let alone put it all together in a way that made sense. These ladies had it down.
However, once it did start to come together for me, my intellectual assent strengthened. The concinnity of Catholic teaching on scripture was so impressive and harmonious, I stopped doubting (although, I didn’t stop questioning) and let the Church be my authority instead of claiming it for myself. End of step 1.
Then, life happened, and my need for God became urgent. I knew we might be in for some suffering when my youngest was born and we suspected she had Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (aka the Elephant Man disease). I had no idea just how much suffering we faced, and it’s not entirely over yet. Little Miss Anthrope’s brain tumor is still growing and she starts the new medication next week to try to shrink it. Prayers appreciated.
So now I’ve moved beyond assenting to the teachings to actual faith, in the sense of trusting God no matter the struggle. Jesus didn’t promise us a walk in the park — he told us to take up our crosses. Step 2 — trust in God to keep it real.
The reason for my writing this post is an interaction I recently had with an unintentionally estranged nephew (I have a lot of nieces and nephews — we don’t talk often). He put up a Facebook post in which he showed pictures of his three boys (twelve and under) receiving the Sacraments of Initiation in a church in Portugal. He asked his mom (one of my three sisters and three brothers) if any of his aunts and uncles still go to church. He was looking for godparents. I’m the only one out of the seven of us.
He explained his reversion came about after caring for his destitute mother-in-law while she was dying of cancer. He and his wife moved her into their home and saw her through to the end. It brought home to him the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. And he wanted his boys to have the faith of their fathers to help them face the inevitable. Step 3 — loyalty to religious heritage.
So, what might do it for you? I’m asking because I’m sad for my extended family (not that I doubt their salvation — that’s God’s turf) and for our civilization. Religion is hard because it makes moral demands. And because God makes moral demands, religion produces a better, stronger people. People who understand sacrifice and try to make the most out of suffering. People who are cognizant of and grateful to the faithful of previous generations. Religion provides a school of virtue, even though most every practitioner falls short at one time or another. Where do you get that in secular culture?
Why aren’t you going to church? Too busy? The kids need to get to soccer or hockey practice and who’s going to drive them? You just need a break from the hustle and bustle of work and life? C’mon. Give me a better reason.
Religious faith isn’t just between you and God. It’s a communal activity. We are formed and fortified by our time with God and each other. That’s why we have an obligation to attend church. At least, that’s what I believe. You? What would it take to get you back in the pews?Published in