TrailRVS asked a question about Waffling and Inconstancy in One’s Path to God on our old discussion forum and received some insightful answers from the Coming Home Network community. We’ve curated the topic for you here. Feel free to continue discussion in the Disqus comment box below.
I grew up in the churches of Christ (a.k.a. Sola Scriptura on steroids). So many of my good memories and religious training was there, and it was really an idyllic childhood. Since coming into the Catholic Church in 1985, I keep moving in and out of Evangelical churches and church of Christ and back to the Catholic Church. I feel like such a flake, ruled by emotions. One friend suggested that I am hooked on the energy of a new relationship and move back and forth when the newness wears off. I know this is not what God desires for me. Does this happen to anyone else?
David W. Emery
I feel like such a flake, ruled by emotions.
Sounds like you are allowing “personal needs” to rule your life instead of God’s revealed truth. The solution is to recognize the truth for what it is and stick with it, regardless of momentary temptations. As Catholics, we can take such temptations to the Sacrament of Penance (“confession”) and allow the priest to help us work things out. Have you done this?
Yes, it perhaps does sound like you are being ruled by emotions, and I suppose the trick will be figuring out the why of the move. When you get itchy to leave the Catholic Church, what is it that is itching? What is it that you are missing, or longing for, or confused about? When you then return to the Church, why is that? Is it out of guilt? Has the feeling of “greener grass” worn off? Maybe you are an idealist and are in bondage to that ideal which, of course, being a human being on planet Earth, you will never EVER find down here. Unfortunately, we idealists have to very quickly become realists and thank God for the reality while all the while preparing ourselves for the ideal of eternity. If your eyes are on heaven, the misfirings of earth will not bother you as much, but if your eyes are on earth, they will bother you very much indeed. Talk to us, TrailRVS, and maybe together we can find out the whys and the wherefores. Praying for you!
Thank you for the replies. I have never really shared this with anyone else, so perhaps this is a step in the right direction.
With what I have experienced in the past, I think that part of the issue is the transition to parish life. In my military career, where I was when I entered the Church, it was a dynamic atmosphere where everyone was fully committed and excited about the faith. Now that I am in my first civilian parish, it just feels dead. I know there is so much deeper meaning in what is happening, but it just seems dead. I know that’s not why I am supposed to be there, but I’m not sure what to do about it.
Another thing I’m ashamed to deal with is not wanting anyone to be disappointed in me. Not sure what childhood issues led to that, but I hate to disappoint others.
I really sound like a flake here, but I am reaching out for help. I am over halfway through life and don’t want to spend the rest of my years spinning in circles going nowhere.
David W. Emery
Based on the additional information you have provided, I think Jennie and I have pointed out the general direction you need to take. More in detail, I can tell you that you are looking for an ideal community, one that doesn’t exist. Human beings don’t act the way you are hoping to find, except perhaps in a closely controlled environment like the military, where discipline is strong and conformity is expected. In civilian life, you won’t find that happening.
Catholics, being basically a cross-section of fallen humanity, will always fall short of expectations, just like the Jews before them. If you look at this coming Sunday’s Mass readings (31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A), you will see that the leaders of the People of God failed them even in Jesus’ time and before. The First Reading (Malachi 1:14; 2:1–2, 8–9), berates the priests for not living up to their calling. In the Gospel (Matthew 23:1–12), Jesus tells the people that “the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you” — in other words, they have been given authority by God himself to govern them, so the people should obey them. But in the next breath, he acknowledges that they are not setting a good example, so the people should not imitate them. Obey but not imitate, because those leaders are self-serving and self-important. From God’s point of view, the people’s position of obedience is much safer, because “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
In our times, the climate is decidedly chillier. We see parishioners who openly defy the Church authorities. They don’t care if it isn’t right, they refuse to obey, they refuse to believe, and they refuse to live in a Christian manner. This is mostly the influence of the surrounding society, which has gone over to a modern form of paganism. These are the people today’s Catholics prefer to follow, because it’s easier. No discipline is required. In fact, no faith, hope or charity is involved, either. And this is exactly what you see in their lives: nothing even remotely Christian. As you say, dead.
Yes, these people are dead, spiritually dead. Yes, they will rise in the Resurrection along with everybody else, but as the Apostle John quotes Jesus (John 5:28–29): “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”
Among the Evangelicals of your experience, the situation is a little different. You don’t see many lukewarm, lackluster Christians among them because they are culled by a natural process: they just stop attending, wander away, and are taken off the rolls. Out of sight, out of mind. Yes, proportionately, there are just as many nominal and bad Protestants as Catholics. But they are not seen because they leave and are written off. Catholics are never written off. God still wants them to be saved, and the Church does, too. So their names remain on the rolls and the Hound of Heaven tracks them down — just as he tracked you down, Trail, and brought you back by dint of divine grace.
I really sound like a flake here, but I am reaching out for help.
We realize this, and we are responding by telling you that this is the reality. This is the face of the Church, and it is never going to change because human nature never changes. (We Catholics don’t believe in evolution, at least not that kind!) So if what you see in your parish is “dead,” that is the way it is. If you go with the Evangelicals, the appearances may be better, but that is only because the “dead” part has been weeded out and left to rot in the field.
Now you have to stop berating yourself, too, because that is a manifestation of the same idealism that caused your church hopping in the first place. You want to be perfect, but you aren’t. The truth is that we all have failings, and we all need to improve in one respect or another. You just need a jump start, and I think you will be fine. But you have to keep your motor running — you have to persevere — or you will end up right where you started. That would be truly pathetic. So keep that motor running and do the best you can, ignoring what others are doing or they will pull you down.
Just a few things to add to what David and Jennie said.
But first, a little humorous ditty I learned in my Christian wanderings: “To live above with saints we love, Oh that will be the glory! To live below with saints we know… Well, that’s another story!”
About “dead” parishes, a little bit of encouragement. There are probably a few “live” devout souls there. They may be the ones who not only attend Sunday Mass but weekdays as well. If there is a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, you may find them there, too. They may not be the “beautiful people.”
The Knights of Columbus groups at the parishes can also be live wires. True, it is more of a service group, but with a spiritual emphasis, and some of the members will probably be alive.
Some of the liturgical ministers, like Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, may be live ones as well.
I tend to be cautious in my assessment of people in the pews, since I have been surprised by their depth when they finally open their mouths and share on occasion. Humility is an important virtue to cultivate here.
Also, I have been part of “dead” churches that were raised from the dead. God has allowed me to play a part in that through ministry. All things are possible with God. Be an instrument in God’s hands.
You said, “I know there is so much deeper meaning in what is happening, but it just seems dead. I know that’s not why I am supposed to be there, but I’m not sure what to do about it.”
You are right. You are supposed to be there, because our Lord has called you to His supper, the Supper of the Lamb. As the priest says in every Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” (Those who are called — that’s you, me, everybody.) Jesus has become the Bread of Life, come down from heaven for us to feed us through the miracle of consecration.
That is why we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Believe it and receive it with a grateful heart. The miracle is still happening, whether the participants seem dead or alive.
Thank you everyone. What I do see here are people willing to speak the truth in love. That is truly a blessing!