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Returning Catholics: What Are They Made Of?

GUEST COLUMN

By Richard M. Harnett | June 1995
Richard M. Harnett, of San Mateo, California, is a retired wire-service newsman.

I recently attended a meeting in our parish on re-evangelizing lapsed Catholics, one of the greatest challenges facing the Church. Several adults gave accounts of how they returned to the faith after leaving it. They were very sincere — and very emotional. One woman began crying when she told how thrilled and exalted she felt after returning to the faith.

All of them said they had been alienated earlier in their lives, and they blamed it on the Church of the 1950s, which they described as harsh, uncaring, dictatorial — and irrelevant, really, given such alleged foolishness as genuflecting in church, no meat on Fridays, and going to confession.

It made me reflect on my own younger days as a Catholic. All my memories were much more positive — praying the Rosary with my mother and father and sisters, serving Mass for “Father Mac,” crunching through the North Dakota snow under starlit sky to attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, being dazzled by the gold monstrance at Benediction.

I didn’t see all the evil or hypocrisy or nonsense in the Church that should have alienated me, as did many of my contemporaries. If I had been alert to that, and dumped it all, I suppose I might be coming back now as hyped-up about my faith as the new returnees are. Part of what kept me going to church was the “fear” that the returnees now say alienated them. I was afraid of going to Hell, and still am. Faith was a gift to be protected.

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