Whatever the reason you stopped practising your Catholic faith in the past, you can be sure of a warm welcome should you decide to start again. Many people return to the Church after a period of time, as they sense a spiritual emptiness in their lives which only Christ can fill. But many more would probably return if only they knew they were missed and wanted back. Almost certainly there are people in your local parish praying right now for “lapsed Catholics” and waiting eagerly to welcome you.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle many face to taking up their faith again is a feeling of guilt. “Catholic guilt” is, of course, notorious, but it does not come from Christ, who was known for his welcome to sinners. Jesus understands completely, even more than you do, why you left the Church and why you would like to return. Despite all their failings, there are many Catholic priests and lay people who will show you that same understanding.
Another difficulty is the bad memories we can have of the Church: perhaps the feeling of fear as our turn came to go to Confession, or an argument with a parishioner about crying children, or a sermon we took exception to. Like any family, the Church can sometimes bruise as well as comfort. Perhaps this is why Jesus laid such stress on forgiveness and on that grace we all need if we are to put these hurts behind us and go forward in the hope that things will be better. Talking about this to a good listener can be a great help.
Obstacles may also arise from the very issues which lead some people to withdraw from the Church in the first place. Some people feel the Church talks too much and too strictly about sex, and not enough about other issues such as climate change. Others are put off by the perceived treatment of women or homosexuals in the Church.
Catholics are acutely aware today of being far from perfect, and since the Jubilee Year 2000 have made special efforts to learn from their mistakes and make it easier for people to see in them the love of Christ. It should also be pointed out that having questions about various aspects of Catholic faith and life is perfectly normal, since faith in the living God will always be a challenge to our human ways of thinking and acting. Our attempts as Catholics to talk about God are always more or less inadequate even though we know the Church has received the gift of unfailing truth.
Finally, Christ’s teaching on marriage, which the Catholic Church upholds, means that some people’s situation prevents them from receiving Holy Communion at Mass, if, for example, they are divorced and remarried. The Church is very aware of such people’s pain and suffers along with them, as well as encouraging them to look into the possibility of a marriage annulment. They are in no sense second-class Catholics, are always welcome at Mass, and can participate in Church life in many ways.
For more information on how to return to the practice of your Catholic faith, please contact your local Catholic Church.
Rembrandt's depiction of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.