Calling All Reverts!

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CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, has just published some speculative demographics (h/t New Advent) on Catholic reverts—those of us raised as Catholics who leave the Church for a time and then come back. The numbers are interesting to me, as is CARA’s contention that reverts, and not just immigrants, are helping to keep Church membership numbers steady in the face of attrition by mortality, low birth rates, and drift away from the Church.

Who are the Catholic reverts? Currently, these are people who are disproportionately between the ages of 25 and 34 (currently a combination of the oldest Millennials and the youngest of the Post-Vatican II Generation). A plurality of regularMass attending Catholic reverts (41%) are of the Post-Vatican II Generation (ages 31 to 51). Another numerous group of reverts are in their retirement years (age 65 or older). Younger reverts may be coming back as they marry and raise children—seeking out sacraments. Seniors may turn back to the faith of their youth just at the moment they begin to face the autumn of their life.

Behind the numbers, of course, are stories. I’ve shared some of my reasons for reverting, but I’m always curious. If you are a revert, what brought you back? If you are a lapsed or “ex”-Catholic, what if anything would call you back? If your parish has a ministry of outreach to Catholics no longer practicing, of what does it consist? Many of the standard Welcome Home resources used by parishes and dioceses are geared more to converts than reverts, but I think we are overlooking an untapped source of energy for the New Evangelization in the renewed zeal of the second-time-arounders. Speak up!

  • Manny

    I don’t consider myself a revert; I would say I was a lapsed Catholic. College life in the secualr world strips young people of their religion. Plus being a science and engineering student makes one reduce everything to empiricism, so it was a simple jump to go to atheism. I would classify my religious evolution as such. From college to mid twenties I considered myself an atheist. From mid twenties to early thirties I considered myself an agnostic as I began to see that atheism did not answer the questions. From early thirties to forty-ish I became theistic as I began to conceptualize the greater mystery to life and realize the incredible statistical unlikelyhood that this was all a random chance. And then at some point in my forties I had what might be considered a religious experience where I felt God calling me, or more likely hitting me across the side of my head. Without going into those details I knew my Christian faith was true, and that my cradle Catholicism was the best understanding of Christianity. I am fifty years old. In no time, even in my atheism, was I ever hostile to religion or Catholicism. When I wasn’t a believer, I saw disbelief by society and me individually to be an unfortunate thing. One wished Chritianity to be true. Thank God I realized it is true!

  • Tim Muldoon

    I love you people!

  • Ruth Ann Pilney

    I’m not a revert, but I know a few such individuals in my parish and one family member. Although I’m curious about their reasons, I feel it’s too personal to ask.

  • Bill Burns

    I’m a revert who started falling away before college and went into full rejection after a year at a Catholic university. I spent 20 years or so wandering, dabbling in existential philosophy, eastern thought, and a bit of new age nonsense until I finally started looking again at the tradition I though t I had left behind. Now I’m back, studying theology, discerning a diaconal vocation, and trying to left God change me day by day.

  • Mary M.

    I am a revert. I pretty much abandoned practicing my faith in my twenties and most of my thirties. I was going through a very painful time in my life and one day I decided to pick up the Bible and began reading. When I finished reading the Gospels I sobbed and I knew that Jesus had suffered, died and rose from the dead. Nothing was the same from that day forward. I could see God’s hand in creation and I felt different. I really did not understand at the time that it was God’s grace moving me towards relationship with Him. God gently lead me back and I am so grateful for his love and mercy. Today I am a very active member of my parish involved in evangelization. I want everyone to know about the Good News!

  • ACE

    The intercession of St. Paschal Baylon (San Pascual Bailon) whom it turns out is not just the patron saint of cooks and the name of a famous cooking school in Santa Fe. San Pascual is the patron saint of Eucharistic Associations and Congresses (read his 200+ page story on-line gratis by entering “The Saint of the Eucharist” and/or the 1 page summary nicely written up on “our patron saint” at St. Paschal Catholic Church in Spokane Valley, WA instead of the other short summaries at sites like New Advent).

    San Pascual got me to daily Mass one day (despite seemingly impossible logistics) and confessions and Eucharist have kept me there. And, yes, I still have things I’m angry about…

    But, I’ve stood with Right to Life people in front of Planned Parenthood praying to shut it down or at least dissuade some from seeking abortions, even though I have yet to sign the petition for the personhood amendment and KNOW that my political views are different in many respects from those I’ve stood with.

    Also, like I did in the 1970′s, I’ve now read the Bible completely through once again (mostly, during Lent, but needing a bit of time afterwards to finish what I’d started).

    This is all since early January of this year…

    One of the sayings attributed to San Pascual is that the attitude you should take towards God is that of a son (or a daughter, mutatis mutandis), towards your neighbor that of a mother, and towards yourself that of a judge.

    • ACE

      Just a couple more things to perhaps pique someone’s interest in reading about the life of St. Pascual:
      Pascual was born on Pentecost and also died on a Whit Sunday (Pentecost being a movable feast). He was named Pascual (Passover) after the day he was born. In Spain Easter is called Passover and Pentecost is called the Passover of the Holy Spirit…

      For those of you who might relate more to a saint who was not a priest or nun (despite having much to thank them for as influences in our lives), let me mention that Pascual was, although entering consecrated life, “only” a Franciscan brother. Despite having started out illiterate, he taught himself to read, was said to have infused knowledge, and was able to debate heretics and write learned and pious books. One of his biographers, a friar who later became the Provincial, discussed an incident where, in a discussion, he opposed Pascual with some very subtle scholastic arguments. Pascual was able to formulate the arguments’ logical conclusions and show irrefutably how the arguments were opposed to sound doctrine and opened the door to error. Said biographer claims he was left abashed and humiliated that a Lector of Philosophy and Theology, like himself, should be nonplussed and caught in doctrinal inaccuracy by a poor Brother who was a complete stranger to formal theological study…

      “What could be nobler, more delightful, or more profitable than conversing with God!” he used to say. “If by frequenting the company of the wise and the good one becomes insensibly wiser and more virtuous, how is it possible, I would ask you, that we shall not become more and more filled with Divine wisdom and charity, when we draw near Him, Who is the unfailing source of goodness, truth, and beauty?”

      At the first process for his canonization, after the judges had discarded everything not considered of primary importance, they still had over 175 conspicuous miracles. At the second process, 8 volumes of nearly 1,000 pages each were filled with testimonies…

      The Eucharist, readers, is a person! Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar! You should never let any priest, congregation, bad experience, doctrinal question or issue separate you from the Body and Blood, from the physical and spiritual presence of the Word made flesh, given for You at the price of His suffering and His life!

    • Jo Ann

      Love that!

  • Andrew

    I’m a revert. Raised Catholic and although I have great parents, it was more “this is what we do” than “we deeply believe in Christ and his Church.” It was a patch on our jacket, not something woven into the fiber of our very beings.

    As such I went off to college and lived like a pagan for many years. But, after I met my girlfriend (now wife), and continued in my selfishness and stupidity, there was a slow dawning on the emptiness of my life and that there was a void. I was never depressed or despondent or anything like that. No addictions or hitting “rock bottom”. It was more of a realization that things were askew and something was missing.

    Though not practicing, I wasn’t hostile to the Church though I certainly wasn’t living according to Christ’s teachings.

    Thankfully, my wife, though lapsed herself, was closer to God than I. Due to a fortunate turn of events with her employment I found myself being in social circles with practicing Catholics and events with the church. I won’t bore with all the details but I will say this looking back – the common thread which brought me back was Our Lady.

    Even while away from the Church, on the rare occasion I thought to pray, it was always a few Hail Mary’s. Of the friends to which I was introduced through my wife, one has a very strong devotion to Our Lady. At a church by my work at the time, there’s a beautiful wooden statue of Mary holding the Christ child and I had the impression of, “What are you waiting for? He’s right here.” No, there were no voices or anything like that, just a conviction.

    It wasn’t a straight line but eventually I returned to the faith, got married in the Church, went to confession, and haven’t looked back. We have three kids now. My eldest child recieved 1st Communion last year and my 2nd will next year. We try to stress to them that being Catholic isn’t just some club one belongs too, but unites you to Christ. Not sure how much is sinking in at this point, but we’re trying.

    I felt this way and I think a lot of reverts do as well: I did the pagan thing. I lived outside the Church and to be honest, it leads to well, nothing. There’s an abyss after a while. Something is missing. That something is God. I’m very thankful to be the prodigal son.

  • Mary

    Can you be a revert if you were really just a lazy college kid who was too interested in athletics and friends to go to church? Probably not, at least not in the sense you mean and everyone else means here.

    But when I did start going to church earnestly again, towards the end of my senior year, I attribute it to two thing — the grace that came from doing my senior thesis on Joan of Arc and Thomas More, and the sense of — why are we doing this?

    A lot of my friends from college are still my friends, and I love them, but I still wonder if they have an answer to that question (and maybe they do, and maybe I should ask them) of why we do what we do, especially now that many of us are married and having babies. What’s it all for? I know the Church is my answer, it is my reason, and yet makes it all not just about me.

  • Jo Ann

    I am also a lapsed Catholic. I stopped attending Mass in college and married an agnostic. We actually went to private pre-cana classes in 1976 and the priest wrote “he lives a Christian life.” After almost eleven years of marriage we adopted the first of our four children. We had him baptized in the Church, but still didn’t attend except at Christmas and Easter. It was finally at the invitation of other mom’s at a Gymboree class that I started going to the Mom’s Group at our parish. I made friends and finally started attending Mass regularly WITH MY AGNOSTIC HUSBAND, who wanted to be a good role model, God bless him, so that our son could get into the school there (it had a waiting list back then). That was 20 years ago. In 2007 my husband went through RCIA just in time to go to Italy and receive Holy Eucharist at Mass inside a little underground chapel at St. Peter’s with our priest. I am now the Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for my parish (formerly known as religious education) and am almost finished getting my Master’s degree in Rel. Ed. through Loyola University, New Orleans at the age of 57. I have been blessed with faith and the love of Christ’s Church since first stepping through the doors of St. Andrew the Apostle at the age of 6. (God bless the Sisters.) Yet, I am still shocked at how things have turned out. However, it has made me keenly aware that we should not judge the faith journey of others. As my good friend says, “We make plans and God laughs.”

  • ace

    I like your story a lot too!

    I’ve always thought and said that church is good for kids because it provides structure, routine, morals, and community (regardless of the flavor of the preaching, excepting where there is blatant & pervasive hate messages). Of course, theoretically, a regularly scheduled non-religious service club could do the same… Parents do often wake up and intuitively get this even if it’s not formally articulated. Without structure, consistency, and community it’s hard for kids to feel secure and form an identity. Regular church attendence can cover a multitude of circumstantial omissions like lack of extended family in the area, single parent household, or “as if” situations such one parent travelling extensively for work, married to their job due to professionally required long hours, or a military deployment.

    Similarly situated are the reasons a parent may back up a teacher or may back up the parent of a kid’s friend who is complaining about their mom or dad, even when we don’t entirely agree with the other adult. I know I’m sounding like a cross between my parents and the mentoring adults of my youth with whom I took refuge from my parents, but inconsistency and lack of structure can be worse sins in the long run than excessive strictness and insufficient empathy. If you never learned the skill set of forming structure and values you’ll be hard pressed to form your own as an adult – even when you ditch some things from your upbringing…

    The other thing which catches my attention is the mention of agnosticism. To me, agnosticism just means that you believe a person can’t empirically prove or disprove the existence of God, although I do get that commonly people take it as a person saying they are undecided about whether or not God exists. I’ve sometimes made people angry by saying that I’m a Christian agnostic which can strike some as an oxymoron. Nevertheless, it’s biblical that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Faith is a gift and we are told that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws the person to him. So called proofs are merely pointers towards God. And, the law of probability does allow for miracles beyond 2 standard deviations on either side of the bell shaped curve

    • ace

      –Sorry, your story made me smile and feel warm and then I had to get all analytical and cerebral. God does indeed laugh. My last confession included the admission that I’m too judgmental and God has even shown me that sometimes my judgments are wrong. God certainly knew what he was doing when he gave me a confessor who sometimes laughs and sometimes scolds, but always gives penances which are simple and show God’s mercy, although sometimes they bring me to tears…

      Has anyone else found themselves telling the story of what it’s like going to confession after not having gone in years and then had somone else say they think they are going to go too now? Under the “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you my be healed”, I’ve done mutual prayer with Protestant friends, but when I was telling a Catholic confession story to a Protestant friend and they said they had done the same thing and never confessed (except privately to God) and started to cry, I sent them to their minister. This has happened 2x now and the same story to a nominal Catholic whom I want to send to a priest but, at close to my age, they claim to have never been to confssion in their life, but they would need a priest who speaks their primary language… and maybe RCIA even though they were baptized and do go up for communion if they go to a Catholic Mass.

  • Ronald

    I stopped practising in my early 20′s thinking that I found freedom. In my mid 20′s I became a full blown atheist. In my late 20′s I started believing that there’s a God but kind of apathetic. Then last year (28) after life became hard for me, I realised that I need to be happy also inwards – and here I am a practising Catholic. I love this church and Jesus Christ and I am not looking back.

    With the power of hindsight and maturity I have now, I attribute it all to that youthful narcissism.

  • Donna G

    I am not strictly speaking a revert, but more a revert in attitude. I never stopped practising the outward basics of the faith, but for many years it meant little to me and I would stray quite a bit and quite often. What really, permanently changed me? Believe it or not, I stumbled across a couple of good Catholic blogs. All I needed was some inspiration. Sadly, I never got that through my family, friends or parishes – but maybe I just wasn’t open to it. (And by the way, I do like your blog, Joanne!)