Saturday, April 11, 2015

Once a Catholic, always a Catholic

Historic St. Anne's Catholic Church on
Mackinac Island, Michigan.  Baptism, death
and marriage records date back to 1695
 Perhaps you have heard this: “You have fallen away!” Or perhaps, “What are we going to tell the family?” These are the comments people hear when they are no longer attending the Catholic Church. People who grew up Catholic and stopped attending can attest that the saying “once a Catholic, always a Catholic” has been likely used and probably abused.
            
         For a time in my life, I heard those words. I was brought up in a Catholic family and educated in a Catholic school, and I embraced Catholicism as an adult. However, soon after we were married and had our children, my wife and I started attending a non-denominational church. My mom and dad as well as many in my family questioned our newfound faith and the reason why we were seemingly abandoning our religion.

One day when I was traveling through Indiana for business, I took the opportunity to visit my favorite aunt and uncle. The conversation over dinner quickly turned to religion. It was a good conversation, and I gave them all of the reasons why we felt it was important for us to attend a great church in our neighborhood.

My aunt turned to me and said, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” It was not a statement of reason but an emotional appeal she was making to her nephew. She knew only the Catholic Church and believed it to be the one and only true church.

From my perspective my wife and I hadn’t converted or abandoned anything; we were actually embracing our faith and growing closer to God. To us, moving from one location on Sunday to another wasn’t about converting to another faith but reaffirming what we knew to be true.

Our journey as Catholics had started with baptisms as infants decades earlier. However, our deep and personal relationships with Jesus Christ in reality had started during a ninety-day period, from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost Sunday, just a few years prior. It began when our Catholic priest, whom we had gotten to know, invited us to a Catholic charismatic group meeting on Tuesdays starting the first full week of Lent. We had asked a few questions about getting to know some other couples and growing in our faith. He told us about this little group and said there was a break at Easter, so if we didn’t feel the group was for us we could easily just drop out.

We didn’t drop out, and because of this group of committed, charismatic Catholics as well as a number of other things that seemed to be calling us to more, God changed our lives during those ninety days. We purchased our first Bible and started reading it on a daily basis. After the ninety days, we found a similar and even larger group that met on Fridays in a gym and occasionally in a park. We enjoyed the fellowship and the scripture reading. Someone always had a guitar, and we learned new songs and began to experience worship in a new and meaningful way. We loved meeting and getting to know other Christians who were as excited about their faith as we were.

The Friday group included young and old, married couples, singles, and a few younger children. For the first time, we heard about having a personal relationship with Jesus. We knew what that was and could look back to that ninety-day period and feel how much our hearts had changed. The language we were using about our faith was also changing. It wasn’t as much going to Mass as it was being in fellowship with other believers. The group was primarily Catholics, but they referred more and more to themselves as believers or spirit filled and even born again. We found we had everything in common with these people as well as other Christians who read the Bible for wisdom, devotions, and personal growth and desired to have living relationships with Jesus Christ.

That was in the early 1980s, and the charismatic renewal of the Catholic Church was in full swing. It seems like every family had one of those kinds. In our family it was my wife and I. We were the ones who seemed always to find a way to turn any conversation into a conversation about Jesus. It seemed like our favorite activities were reading our Bibles and listening to Christian radio and Christian music. Our kids were still very young, and we wanted the very best for them. We started looking for a church that could help us grow, that would be a great place for our young children to learn about God, and that would give us an opportunity to meet other couples who were just as passionate about their relationships with God as we were.
            
        In the beginning I had more passion and enthusiasm than common sense. I was insensitive, rude, argumentative, and no fun to have at a party. My wife was much more pleasant. She didn’t like arguments and was a natural peacemaker. In time God was able to smooth out some of these rough edges in my life, and my family eventually forgave me. Surprisingly, and over time, they started to see, through my gentler and humbler self, that my faith in and love for God were real. I’ve found this approach to be better when we want to share the Gospel. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”[i]

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to read and grow and have taken some classes in theology, the Bible, and history. I’ve learned a lot about my Catholic heritage. Had I known then what I know now, I would have had better answers to people who asked about me falling away or abandoning my religion. To me Catholicism was a great inheritance, and it was in the Catholic Church that I came to believe the essential truths I continue to believe today. The faith, the history, the traditions, and even the doctrines contributed greatly to who I am.

I am writing this book because of these experiences. I am much more than a former Catholic. I have an appreciation of my Catholic heritage, the Catholic members of my family, and all of the wonderful members of the Body of Christ who attend Catholic churches. This is my story, but I will also be sharing the story of the church through history, which influenced my thinking and clarified my thoughts. The history of the church will include the dates and the people and the places, but it will also be the story, the narrative of how the church has evolved. My evolution, however, began more than forty years ago, when I was still in Catholic school.


Except from "Roaming Catholics: ending the wandering to embrace the wonder" by Kenneth Behr, available at Amazon and your local Christian Bookstore

[i]. Susan Henderson McHenry, Therapy with God: Wonderful Counselor, Comforter, Friend (Xulon, 2008), 25.


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