The recently concluded holiday season reminded many Catholics of an interesting phenomenon: the religious denomination in our country with the most people is the Roman Catholic faith, while the second greatest number of people belong to a group identified as “former Catholics.” Sometimes it seems that most of these former Catholics are the friends and relatives who attended our Christmas gatherings last month.
Those holiday get-togethers were often very awkward. While we wanted to honor the true meaning of Christmas by recognizing the birth of Jesus and making plans to attend Mass, we also didn’t particularly wish to start World War III right in the living room. (After all, artillery shells and shrapnel can wreak havoc on the new wallpaper.) So instead, we tried to be peace-makers and avoid nasty arguments, but in doing so we felt like we were not defending our Faith since we let so many snide comments go unanswered.
To make matters more complicated, there are a number of different types of former Catholics. And, of course, each type was well represented during the holiday parties.
First, there’s Secular Sammy. He was raised Catholic, but now as an adult, he is convinced all religions are nothing more than silly superstitions. Whenever the topic of faith or spirituality comes up for discussion, Sammy’s contribution is to shout, “You don’t really believe that junk, do you?!” (and “junk” is not exactly the word he uses). This is quickly followed by, “Hey kid, where can I find the beer?” To which you reply, “In the same place where you found your previous eleven beers, Uncle Sammy, the fridge.”
Next, there’s Progressive Polly. She claims to believe in the basic tenets of Christianity, but refuses to have anything to do with the Catholic Church anymore because the Church will not ordain women, perform same-sex marriages, and pass out birth control pills in C.C.D. classes, beginning with the third graders. The only way Cousin Polly will ever consider returning to Catholicism is if the Pope makes a public declaration that the Church has been wrong about everything for the past 2,000 years, and then announces that the Church will be disbanded immediately. This just might make Polly happy—but probably not.
Then there’s At-Home Henry. He insists he’s a good Catholic, but he hasn’t been to Mass in 20 years. He’s convinced he can practice his faith by staying home on Sunday mornings. “I can pray in my bed just as well as in a church,” he claims, “and at home I’m not surrounded by a bunch of hypocrites!” When he says this, you are reminded that your hypocrite-hating Uncle Henry left his wife at home, your dear Aunt Emily, and instead brought his most recent girlfriend to the holiday party.
Finally, there’s Fundamentalist Francis. He too was raised Catholic but recently he joined a small independent Bible church. You truly believe him when he says, “I am on fire for the Lord!” mostly because he says that quite loudly every 30 seconds. And you are genuinely happy for his newfound enthusiasm for Jesus, but you just wish he’d stop referring to Catholicism as Satan’s Church, not to mention approaching all the people at the party and telling them they’re going to Hell if they remain Catholic.
There’s an old saying, “God let’s us choose our friends, but He gives us our relatives.” However, we should look on the bright side: we now have so many new people to add to our prayer lists.
Well, don’t get too comfortable. The family gatherings for Easter will be here before you know it.
(Note: the folks depicted here are composite characters, and have NO resemblance to anyone I’m related to. Really.)