If you guessed “Catholics”, you’re right! According to a 2011 study by CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), there are 68 million Catholics in the United States—more by far than in any other group.
But the second group on CARA’s list—with 22.5 million, coming in almost 35% higher than the next on the list—are “Former Catholics.” By comparison the third group, the Baptists, have only 16 million adherents. They’re followed by the Methodists (7.6 million), then the Mormons (6.1 million), and so on.
So what makes Catholics, who once enjoyed the fullness of grace available to them in the Church founded by Christ, decide to slip out the door? Some, perhaps, are weak in their understanding of the Faith; some are offended by a particular priest or hurt by a member of the congregation; some are attracted by other denominations; and some are just disinterested and would rather focus on their golf game or curl up with their pillow just a little longer on Sunday morning.
Pope Benedict addressed the problem head-on recently, offering some advice aimed at keeping Catholics in the pews. The occasion was his June 22 meeting with bishops of Colombia, in Rome for their ad limina visit. The pope offered a concrete list of ways to keep Catholics from falling away.
- Be better believers. The Holy Father issued a call for Catholics to be “better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no one will feel distant or excluded.”
- Emphasize and teach the Faith. “Catechesis must be promoted, giving special attention to young people and adults; homilies must be carefully prepared, as well as promoting the teaching of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities.”
- Celebrate tradition. “It is important,” the Pope explained, “to emphasize the Church’s tradition, Marian spirituality and the rich diversity of devotion.”
- Keep avenues of communication open. “To facilitate a serene and open exchange with other Christians, without losing one’s own identity, can also help to improve relations with them,” he said, “and to overcome mistrust and unnecessary confrontations.”
All of these things, the Holy Father averred, will help the baptized to recover “a sense of belonging to the Church and to awaken in them the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and of being members of his Mystical Body.”
An interesting thing about the Catholic Church: You can’t really leave. If you do—if sin or sloth or distraction cause you to stay away—the Church waits with open arms, ready to welcome you home. The Church has a name for people who don’t come around any more, and it’s not “former Catholics.” No, the Church calls them “lapsed Catholics,” good folks who haven’t been at the 4:00 p.m. vigil Mass for a while, but who might return and stop in for Saturday confession any time now.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#27) seems to anticipate the homecomings. Quoting from that most famous “lapsed Catholic” who returned to become a great saint, St. Augustine, the Catechism says:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.
To learn more about coming home to the Catholic Church (or to learn more about teachings and traditions which you may have forgotten), visit the website of Catholics Come Home.