The Pope and the Lapsed...

I was just visiting a friend who lives quite near me as I haven't heard from him for a while.

He and his mother are both lapsed Catholics, so I thought Pope Francis would be a good 'evangelising moment' for two people who are no longer practising the Faith.

"What do you think of Pope Francis?" I asked his mother. 
"Oh," she replied, "I think he's wonderful, a real breath of fresh air."

So with such a positive response, I asked, "Does it inspire you to go to Mass again?"
 "No," she replied, "Nothing could do that."
"No, nothing could do that." Depressing! 

She added, "I shouldn't have given it up in the first place," as if giving something up means that you cannot take it up again. I've given up smoking before and I took it up again, so its not impossible.

I wanted to talk to her son, my friend about the new Pope, among other things, but he was unfortunately too drunk to discuss anything coherently. I didn't stay with him long, so shame on me for not 'practising what I preach' about the 'valuing people because they are made in the image and likeness of God' rather than for their 'social productivity'. The friend got paid today, so today is vodka day. He, too, seemed pleased with Pope Francis what? If the lapsed find admirable qualities in the Successor of St Peter but have no desire to be in communion with him, then what is the good in that? The Papacy is not about the admirable personal qualities on the Pope.

I asked someone else I know who I believe is away from the Church, a lapsed Catholic, who is from Malta. "What do you think of the new Pope, Francis?" I asked. "Oh, he's wonderful. Hopefully he can clear the Church of so many problems,"  he replied.

I kind of had the feeling that a new Pope and a 'new breath of fresh air' doesn't necessarily mean much to the lapsed, the Church's children that She has lost over the years for various reasons. My own parents are agnostic/bordering on atheist, yet they seem to love the new Pope. The likelihood of them attending any Mass but for my wedding/funeral are slim to non-existent.

Doubtless a new Pope awakens some interest or curiosity or even excitement in the minds and hearts of men and women who are no longer or who have never been close to the Catholic Church, but that isn't really what Salvation is about. Salvation is not about admiring Jesus, His Mother or His Pope, but having a relationship with Jesus Christ in His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is the quality of this relationship as well as what this means for all our personal relationships that will decide our eternal destiny.

So forgive my pessimism, I'm a little depressed in general, but good news for the Catholic Church is not necessarily good news for the lapsed if "nothing" will bring them back or entice them in. Pray for them. We know what people want - the love and forgiveness of Christ - its just that certainly I find it hard to express, in person, that is what they want and how they can obtain it. Despite what I write on this blog, some readers will be surprised that I have a natural aversion to 'ramming religion down people's throats.' With 'Francismania' in full swing in the media, however, I thought we need a little perspective. For most lapsed Catholics and for those outside of the Church I guess things will just carry on as usual...


Mary Clarkson said…
I converted to Catholicism from Methodism soon after Blessed John Paul became Pope. I'm sure you'r comments on lapsed Catholics are true, but a Papal election does raise the profile of the church and is an opportunity for outsiders to learn what it stands for. That was certainly how it was for me and I hoe and pray that it will be the same for others now. It's less to do with the person of the individual Pope ( though one can't discount this factor), more to do with the focus on what the church is about.
Fr Stephen said…
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I hope you don't mind if I make a comment and offer a reflection...
First of all, in a visual age the gestures of Pope Francis are making great impact on ordinary people. I know of one person who was with a Catholic friend on the night of Pope Francis' election and was so struck by the new Pope that he decided to become a Catholic. We can pray that even perhaps among those who are most alienated from God there will be something about Pope Francis that will soften their indifference or hostility and may begin a journey towards God.
Secondly, in my experience, there are many people who would never go back to Church because, in a sense, they don't know how. They are scared. Over the years I've met people standing outside my Church wanting to go in but not daring to because they think they've made such a mess of their lives God wouldn't want them.
Don't give up on your friend and his mother. Something has moved in her heart especially. I will pray for her and offer up some little mortifications. I will pray for you as well and would ask you to consider going back to her some time soon and inviting her to go with you to Mass one day. You might have to encourage her a bit - and I'd avoid a long one! - but you never know. Perhaps Divine Mercy Sunday would be a good one to go for.
epsilon said…
Lawrence - I will pray for your family and friends as I do for my own!

It made me laugh today when I heard a colleague pontificating LOL on how he (Francis) will HAVE to sell some stuff (not all of it!) but some of it, to feed the poor... along with some other things to get the Church "back on track". I just smiled because I knew my opinion as a Catholic wasn't important:)

You need to have a reason why if you're going to be willing to stand up and say "I'm Spartacus". Saying "join us because we're great and we're nice and we have such a good time and nice people from history were Catholics too" will never work...You can't love and serve something if you don't know'll never want to live for, let alone die for something if you've never been told what it was or been given a chance to understand it...
Apologetics mon cher..we have the answer to the why have we spent the past century pretending we haven't?
...and with all deference to Fr Stephen, we can't deny that a lot of lapsation occurred when we turned the mass into a cult of personality but the compere didn't have much of a personality..if you spend decades telling a congregation that it doesn't matter if you're Catholic and it doesn't matter what you believe or say or do just so long as you're nice and you don't bear grudges and you're tolerant and you've got a low carbon footprint and you're not racist...if you desacralise and turn the sacrifice of calvary into a tambourine-brinylon-chipped crockery group hug meal round an orange box for all the 'in-crowd friends of father'? Parishioners are basicall being told they are not wanted, not a participant, not a 'real' member..and are frankly not going to be a loss if they aren't if you bore them to tears or torpors with vapid, self-indulgent trite milk & water platitudes? or torment them with howling meaningless saccharin cacophonies? They are not so much leaving of their own volition - they are more often involutary victims of enforced lapsation...frightened of not merely losing their faith but their sanity or the last residual drop of human kindness if they remained. In the mass we're supposed to be upon the threshold of how come so many priests turned it into a seemigly unending purgatory?!!!
Hi - the problem is the media. They attack and swoon over Popes for very nebulous reasons. They say the church needs to 'butt out' of sexual ethics, for example, but then they go on, and on, and on about celebacy as if that's all that matters in the church. Most peoples vision of the church is via the prism of the media, so we shouldn't be surprised if most are lukewarm either way: it is what the media have created.
Elizabeth said…
I feel your frustration. My two sisters are lapsed Catholics, one of them self-identifies as an agnostic. My Dad and brother still somewhat practice the Faith in the way that they think suits them.

The irony of it is that for 25 years I was a complete non-believer; in my family I was the girl most likely to NEVER become a Christian, let alone a Catholic! But God had His way with me. I struggled, kicking and screaming all the way it seems, and it took a couple of years and in increments, but He won me, thank God.

I guess what I'm wanting to say I'm sure you already know. Asking someone to go to Mass when they have no Faith anymore (or ever had at all) simply means nothing, at least from my own experience. Why in the world would I want to go to Mass? That's like putting the cart before the horse!

Over the years my Dad would ask me occasionally if I wanted to go to Mass with him and my reaction was always the same ~ why would I want to do that? It meant absolutely nothing to me. I had no understanding of the Faith and I had no belief in Jesus.

As hard as it is now for me to accept, in the case of my sisters for example, but trying to talk somebody into "returning" to the Church doesn't work. I don't know ~ maybe it does for certain people. Anytime someone tried to talk to me or convince me or cajole me, the wall went up. My own conversion was entirely Him. It was between me and Him.

Just food for thought.
Lynda said…
The views expressed by those who have left the Faith were probably those they received from secular Media.
Shaun said…
I've been a lapsed Catholic for several years but I've been moving back to the church through the events of the last few weeks. I've got a new rosary which I'm praying and a Bible I'm reading. I've been going to confession and attending mass - normally I have to do this round my job (I'm working as a waiter at the minute so I'm there a lot), which means I don't have a parish yet. Obviously it's early, but if anything my interest and engagements increasing.

There's one observation I'd make personally. I always loved Benedict, especially after he visited the UK, but my main feeling towards him was one of protectiveness. I knew from Catholic writers that I read that he was saying profound and important things, but honestly I always felt a little bit out of my depth with him. I never really felt I knew enough about the church to fully understand.

The last few weeks, however, have been a lived example that touched me and spoke to me. Both the humility of standing down and Francis's early example. For me they both demonstrated what I'd thought of intellectually but distantly, mean in life. In addition Francis's homilies are something that I've found helpful guides both to read and to listen.

And maybe, once I've read a bit more and prayed a bit more I'll feel ready to start reading some of Pope Benedict's writings.
Tim said…
Wedding/funeral? As in "a man isn't complete until he is married - and then he is finished"?
Amfortas said…
Shaun, you could always start with the books of interviews with Benedict. They're very helpful ways into his mind. You'll find not only someone of great intellect but also someone with a clear vision and a warm pastoral heart.
epsilon said…
Shaun - welcome back:)
It's very precious and humbling to hear the story of someone who has returned to the faith that so many of us take for granted!
Fr Stephen said…
How are you getting on with inviting the mother of your friend to go to Mass with you one day?