Sunday, February 4, 2007

I Have a Dirty Secret

Amy Wellborn's "Open Book" blog has an interesting post on "Reverts", that is, Catholics who left the Church, then returned (click on the title of this post to go there). The "dirty secret" is a journey of faith (and doubt or disinterest or disdain or disillusionment, etc.) that, believe it or not, everyone seems to have. We Catholics seldom ask for permission of one another to talk about that journey, which is why I'm jokingly calling it a dirty secret. There are quite a few stories of reversion there, but I'd like to make a few observations about what I've seen on that thread. However, I encourage you to go see for yourself!

OBSERVATION A: There are some patterns regarding why people left that emerge:
1) poor catechesis in Catholic schools, including catechesists with disdain for anything smacking of the pre-Vatican II Church (Catholic school education really takes a beating, I'm afraid)
2) little or no catechesis - Christmas/Easter nominal Catholic households;
3) "falling away" after marrying a non-Catholic
4) It seems that these folks had no relationship with Christ on anything but an intellectual level. This is not explicitly mentioned on any post, as far as I could tell, but every reason for falling away seems to focus on some intellectual defect of faith. Even those who mentioned prayer, spoke of it as a kind of ritual in their "pre-falling away days."

Virtually all of the comments indirectly point out the importance of parents sharing their faith with their children. I don't mean just sending them to Catholic school. In fact, many of the comments indicate that was the beginning of the end of their faith. Rather, parents need to talk about why they believe what they do. They need to talk about their relationship with Christ, the relationship between Christ and the Church (local and universal), and how that relationship effects their decisions. Many of those who "fell away" had parents who were nominal Catholics who probably couldn't do that, because that relationship wasn't there.

OBSERVATION B: There are some people who seem to speak of "unintentional disciples". For example,

"There should also be a "tweener" category: between convert/revert and life long Catholics. A category for those who never left the Church (hence, never converted or reverted in that sense), but weren't really conscious of being Catholic in a deliberate way (hence, not exactly the witness of saints). Sort of auto-pilot Catholics, who one day for whatever reason, shut off the auto-pilot and start flying manual."


"I'm not a convert, because I am a cradle Catholic, but I never totally made a concious decision to never mattered at all. Period. Being Catholic was inconsequential to anything else in my life."

This is why our blog is called "Intentional Disciples." Faith that justifies is conscious, i.e., intellectual assent to truth and informed by love in such a way as to issue forth in "good works." A well-formed faith transforms our life with God's grace.

OBSERVATION C: There are some interesting examples of what could be cultural Catholicism. This post was from a female religious, and I choose to believe there's a lot more to her faith than this:

"I've had the grace to be Catholic my whole life. It had a lot to do with my Irish grandmother's fierce clinging on to the faith because of the effects of Britain's persecution of the Irish Catholics."

OBSERVATION D: Many people who wrote comments came back to the Church because of the Mass, but more seemed to come back because of intellectual reasons. In some ways this doesn't surprise me, since people who read blogs might tend to be more intellectually inclined, and many of them spoke of leaving for intellectual reasons. The following beautiful anecdote stood out to me because it was more of a personal experience of the presence of God. What was fascinating, however, was that the writer felt it necessary to somehow apologize for her subjective experience!

"I was reading C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" alone in my room one night, and ... there's really no other way to put this ... I had an experience of God. I felt God's presence in the room with me. I felt that His eyes were on me. I didn't hear voices or anything like that. I just felt His presence in a way I never had before and never have since. A Psalm 139 kind of experience.

Reading back over that last paragraph, I know this is the kind of thing that makes non-believers, and maybe even believers, think "hallucination, send this woman to a shrink." I would have said so myself to anyone who described such a thing to me. I can only say it was the most real thing I've ever experienced.

I can't say how anyone else views my story, but here is what I see: God saved me with what He had to work with. I had a wonderful mother who never stopped praying for me, and who, together with my sister, ended up living with me and being a model of faith. I had a habit of reading romance novels and just happened to pick up one that would stir my desire for a relationship with God. I was a bit of an Anglophile, and here was the English master of Christian apologetics ready to hand. Rationalism was initially a stumbling block to my faith, and God pulled me over with a unique experience of grace."

I believe experiences like this are not as rare as one might think from reading this thread on "Open Book."

OBSERVATION E: While some Catholics who have commented on Intentional Disciples seem to take offense at the idea that Catholics might speak about their faith, apparently a good number are willing to write about their faith journey at great length. Certainly my experience as an interviewer of people who have gone through a Called and Gifted workshop has shown me that Catholics are often quite willing to share their stories - and all of those stories are beautiful in one way or another.

Which leads me to invite you to share a "dirty secret" here. If you will, would you describe what has made a big difference in your life of faith?

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