For Rosa, Who Loved Jesus So Much She Had to Leave His Church

Posted by Webster 
Living where I do, outside Boston, I am surrounded by Catholics. Being Catholics of our times, many of them, born into the Church, have left it. This is a strange burden for me, only two years a Catholic, to bear.

By what lottery was I called to this faith now, nearing the age of 60? By what turn of the wheel have these Catholics, who adored the Church of their childhood, fled it like a frightening memory behind a door they themselves have locked and lost the key? I have never prayed to St. Jude, patron of lost causes (left), but if I meet many more of these people, I may begin doing so.

I have written previously about “my friend who has fallen away from the church.” More recently, I wrote about a cradle Catholic who values my passion for Catholicism but somehow can’t find the way back to his own. Let me take a moment to tell you about a third friend, “Rosa.” This friend recently came upon one of my blog posts, and she was offended by what the post implied about people in her situation. But as we talked I realized, and so did she, that the blog had actually opened up inner territories for her to explore. I even dared to think it may have reopened a door she had closed so long ago.

I have known Rosa for many years now. She is bright, well educated, upstanding in motherhood and citizenship, and—I think even she would admit—extremely talkative. I am not so talkative—except in your blog, I can hear Katie saying with an eye-roll, and she is right, of course. Because Rosa is talkative and I am not, and perhaps for no other reason, we may not always have understood each other as well as we might. Talkative can look superficial to the non-talkative; and I know how self-absorbed I can seem.

Rosa may be talkative, but as I learned in a recent conversation, superficial she is not. She told me of her extreme devotion to the Church as a child. Of praying on her knees on a hard wood floor while other children were playing. Of the countless rosaries, novenas, and other devotions she applied herself to until—when was it?—her late teens, early twenties? Then, a disastrous series of encounters with a priest soured her heart. This was no sordid story of abuse like those that have made news in recent years. It was just a case of lousy advice from someone who should have known better. At a time when she was growing from adolescence to womanhood, when it seems that even virginity was still an option for her—when her life could have taken so many good turns—Rosa turned away from the Church.

As a mother, she has tried to find her way back, but again, maybe ten years ago, she asked for pastoral guidance and received just the wrong answer. You can say, but maybe Rosa is wrong, maybe it was the right answer. I’ve heard the pastoral answer she was given, and, let me presume to say this: It is the wrong answer. I am not sure what the right answer is, but Pope Benedict would have known, and so would Father Barnes, I’m sure.

I am sorry to be so indefinite about Rosa’s story, but I must not violate her privacy. What’s more, I am just finishing Michael O’Brien’s extraordinary novel Island of the World, and I have underlined the following words regarding the short biography of a poet, who is the central character:

Before going to press, . . . he insisted on the deletion of any significant biographical data. He maintained that while such matters are important “for the soul” of a man, the understanding to be gained from them is for the man himself, and not for anyone who, from idle interest or “more perilous curiositas,” as he called it, presumes to enter into the realm of another’s private memory.

I wrote Rosa’s initials in the margin beside this quote. And I have written this post with the quote in mind. My interest in Rosa is not “idle,” but Rosa herself will have to arrive, perhaps with the help of the Holy Spirit, at a renewed understanding of her own biographical data. I feel honored, though, that, during a brief conversation that shattered all my preconceptions, Rosa gave me a glimpse into the realm of her private memory.

What else can I do now? Keep blogging and getting in trouble with my blogging. Keep talking. Keep praying. Joan of Beverly would advise me to add Rosa to my prayer list, and so I have done so. St. Jude, pray for us.

  • Anonymous

    from Warren Jewell . . .Thou sayest it: "Saint Jude, pray for us."I can only add: "Most Holy Spirit, tickle the sensibilities of all the 'Rosas' of our world with the same intense fire of love with which You have compelled me to Yourself."

  • Webster Bull

    Warren, you are truly a Jewel(l).

  • Pam (Rose) Beeler

    A beautiful post. I will keep Rosa (and you) in my prayers. And, please do keep "talking" in your blog. You have much to say and many people like Rosa may very well hear here the words that they sought but unfortunately never heard so many years ago.

  • Miss Linda

    I am always inspired by your posts. I will keep Rosa, and all those who have fallen away from the Church, in prayer especially during this Christmas season.

  • jan

    If I may? St. Jude was my original patron saint and has never let me down. We're talking miracles of some magnitude here. I named one of my children after him in gratitude.

  • Webster Bull

    Hey Jude, You've got my attention now! (Thanks, Jan)

  • Tina aka Snupnjake

    Feels Rosa's pain. I left the Church too for a while because of series of events, mostly the same thing, bad advice. It's a miracle I didn't take it. It was only time, growing up and finding the "right" priest that led me to come back.

  • Webster Bull

    That's good to know, Tina. And — completely off the subject: Thanks for the Christmas card!

  • Maria

    Maybe we need a blog about " coming back " for all the Rosa's of our world. And pray that the Holy Spirit makes His home in her heart,as above.

  • Webster Bull

    Not a bad idea, p82! I feel a much stronger obligation to the Rosas of the world than to the hard-core atheists. The Rosas know what they're missing, they just won't let themselves have it now. . . .

  • Maria

    It is, in may ways, harder coming back. Those who have lost faith have a special heartbreak. Maybe we should ask Our Lady to intercede on her behalf. Ask her to implore her son to remove any obstacles that would thwart her return to the Church. I will keep her on my list.

  • Anonymous

    This is a tough one. There must be hundreds of thousands of lapsed and non practicing Catholics out there but of course the front door is always open in welcome for them. The dynamic is extremely complex. Not to oversimplify but in a case such as Rosa's (with details understandingly few) where bad advice seems to be the primary cause I'd respond that one should go to a priest for spiritual matters and guidance but look for advice on corporal affairs elsewhere. If I need legal advice I go to a lawyer, marital advice a trained and licensed counselor and so forth. The Church today ( and I've been thinking about this a lot recently) is still and will continue to be in a great deal of upheaval from Vatican II. I think that the dust has yet to settle and it will be some time before it does. I'm not questioning the wisdom of the Church Fathers but the transition was for many a traumatic and somewhat ham fisted one. Previous to the Council I was an altar and choir boy at a diocesan cathedral and there was no priest or religious shortage then and there were more masses which were mostly filled. How that's changed! The 2nd half of the 20th century has been an incredible challenge for the Church and I spent nearly two decades adrift but in returning I discovered that the baby was not thrown out with the bath and that the Faith, the Sacraments, the Creed and all that is the essence of Catholicism remains and that is what is important. Virulent anti-catholicism fueled by a perceived post VaticanII watering down of values followed by the nightmare scandals of the past 15 years serve as roadblocks to those who can't see beyond them to what is really important – the Faith, Hope and the Way as entrusted to the Apostles with Peter as leader. Christ was perfect but His Church comprised of us is imminently human and as such will always be subject to human failings. So while the one,true, holy and apostolic church will change in form and suffer from human shortcomings it is constant and unchanging in substance and for me that is a source of gratitude and joy. It is not easy being Catholic and it requires not only an act of faith but of will. I believe that as the pendulum begins to swing back to the middle there will be a return of some souls to the Church and will certainly pray for this. Sorry for being longwinded but this is an easy topic to get carried away on. also, my name is James. I've posted twice before but as others have said – I can't get around the anonymous thing!

  • Webster Bull

    Great comment, James (I think to get around "Anonymous" you have to be registered somehow with Google Reader or Google Friends–not really sure, sorry).But back to the comment: The problem does seem to be with the ham-fisted handling of Vatican II. I think there is hope, however, in how JPII and now "my pope," BXVI have been determined to reclaim the true meaning and heritage of Vatican II. Things got badly out of control and quickly, and it was not only the Church's fault. It was the times. "Rosa" talked about how astonished she was to see priests she had admired and respected leaving the priesthood to "run off" with nuns. That wasn't Vatican II, it was 1969, it was Free Love. And then you had Gay Liberation on the heels of that, and Women's Liberation, and God knows who else's. Pandora's Box was wide open. What could stand in the winds that blew then?And the Church lost many faithful Catholics, including many of my friends and loved ones. Tragic! But still hopeful–if our popes and bishops can get us back on track and some of us (better, *more* of us) live our faith to the fullest and convincingly.

  • Anonymous

    Webster, I couldn't agree more. The events and circumstances of the past 45 years seemed to have created a perfect storm. The tremendous shift in social mores that seems to have paralleled the lightning fast advance in technology combined with political events and the lowering of the bar in educational and vocational expectations are all factors contributing to the spiritual malaise of former catholics. I think many have developed an attitude of relativism which I think can be toxic to embracing Faith. As for VaticanII and the whirlwind that followed I'm getting the sense that some of the fog is clearing and that the wisdom of it will make the Church stronger than ever. After all, what's a mere 45 years in the context of 2000yrs of Church history and tradition? James

  • Webster Bull

    James, Relativism indeed. When I told "Rosa" about the Atheist's comments (see "Diamond" post for 12/19), she said, "I know she's an atheist, but she has a priestly character. I don't know anyone who is holier. Who is more Christlike in her character than [the Atheist]. The charities she volunteers for, the . . . " What the John do you do with that?????

  • Maria

    CS Lewis' book The Problem of Pain really helped me. Short. It lays out all the arguments. It had a big impact on my many decades ago. And of coursem,JOY is the best advertisement there is for Catholicism.

  • Webster Bull

    Hey P82, Joy is what YIMC is all about!!! :-)

  • Anonymous

    Atheism and altruism are not mutually exclusive but atheism and holiness are simply by definition. It sounds to me to be more a case of secular humanism. Also I cannot understand how relativists would deny certain absolutes in spiritual morality (ten commandments,anyone) yet would not refute absolutes in the physical world. Ask them to step off a high building and they'll immediately cite the law of gravity. Merry Christmas all! James

  • Anonymous

    Webster, Are you descended from a Papal Bull?

  • Webster Bull

    LOL, 'fraid not. Bull is English and therefore quite far from Rome. But I have some French blood from my grandmother Leland (my middle name), some Swiss-German blood from my other grandmother, a Heffelfinger! Still, no Italian names in the family tree that I can find.

  • cathyf

    Just a note on how not to be anonymous: on the "Select profile" pull-down menu, select "Name/URL", fill in your name, and leave the url blank. (Or you can put in a url — anything you want, doesn't even need to be valid.)

  • James

    Thanks for the tip Cathy