What Not to Say When Someone Tells You They’re Leaving the Church

What Not to Say When Someone Tells You They’re Leaving the Church October 8, 2018

This post is yet another of those things I wish I never had to say.  But I just saw somebody do this, so here goes.

Despite what you may have heard, if a person tells you they’re leaving the Church, you should not say “Good riddance. I guess you never read John Six or you’d never be able to leave the Faith.”

This is a nasty thing to say.  And it’s rotten apologetics, too. There’s no magical hypnosis that makes you profess all the Church holds to be true written into John Six. Protestants all over the world read John Six. I would wager that your average Protestant reads the Holy Gospels more often than your average Catholic. They remain Protestant. They interpret the text differently. I’m not saying they should. I’m Catholic, and I think I know what John Six refers to. But being smug and mean about it just makes you look like a fool.

Secondly, even if we’re 100% sure that John Six refers to transubstantiation and the Holy Eucharist, as I am, Catholics aren’t the only ones with a Eucharist. My Orthodox friends receive the Eucharist every Sunday and Holy Day and it’s part of Catholic teaching that their Eucharist is a valid sacrament. So you’re actually going against Catholic teaching if you think only people in communion with Rome are obedient to the command to gnaw on the Flesh of Christ given in John Six. It is absolutely not valid to accuse someone who says she’s leaving the Church of not paying attention to John Six.

Also, you’re a jerk. We all lose our tempers and say mean things, including “Why don’t you just leave,” or the like, sometimes. I know I have, usually to smug insulting people like you. But to say this in cold blood to someone who told you she left the Church because of how much the bad witness of Catholics made her suffer? Boy, are you ever a jerk.

So, what should you say to someone who tells you they’re leaving our Faith?

Well, you could start by saying “I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to talk about it?”

You don’t have to use those exact words. In fact, having an exact formula at times like these is very tacky. You should practice empathy instead of a rehearsed speech. But something along the lines of “I’m sorry. Would you like to talk about it?”

And then listen.

And maybe that person will give you a theological objection, and you can brush off your apologetics training and tell them why you believe differently. You might even use John Six. But you must do this respectfully and politely. This person is a child of God, not an enemy. They don’t lose their dignity as a child of God because they’re mistaken about something.

Or maybe that person will tell you they’re in pain.

Let’s face it, being Catholic can be painful.

If you don’t find it that way, I’m glad for you. That is a gift you’ve been given. But for many people at many phases of their spiritual journey, professing the things that Catholics profess can be difficult. Being at Mass can be a trip to Calvary in more than the usual, purely spiritual way. The very act of being around other Catholics can feel like a heavy cross, and there are good reasons why it might. That person might have been abused– sexually, physically, spiritually, maybe all three, and that trauma colors their entire religious experience. They may be a victim of bullying in a parish, and the witness they’ve received was so shameful that it makes Christ seem like a liar. This can happen. It happens a lot. May God have mercy on us poor sinners, it happens all the time.

And I’m certain, if that’s the case, that these people have been chided for the way they feel already. They’ve already been told that their faith is supposed to be in Christ and not people and they’re not allowed to let abusive people get them down. They’ve already been told that the Catholic church is not a social club and you can’t leave because of a few bad apples. They may well have been gaslit and told the abuse was all their imagination and an anti-Catholic conspiracy. You’d be surprised how often people say that.

If I know anything about trauma, and unfortunately I do, I’d bet that most people who have been abused until they wanted to leave the Church are already spending a great deal of time gaslighting their own selves. They’re already having a hard enough time believing what happened. And here they are finally having the courage to face it and tell the truth, to themselves and to you.

And they want to leave.

And here you are, the hands and face of Christ for them. They can’t see Christ, but they can see you, the Christian. Christ has no Body but yours, for this person, at this moment.

Do you really think Christ wants you to snarl “good riddance, read John Six?”

I think you’re better off tying the heaviest Gospel book you can find around your neck and hurling yourself into the sea than saying anything of the kind. A Gospel is a nice big heavy book. Many people have drowned their own souls by wielding it as a weapon against their brethren in Christ.

The Body of Christ has suffered enough. Be balm, not acid.

For mercy’s sake, open that Gospel and read John Six. No, not that part. Read the beginning.

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