By Frank Wessling
This is also the time of year when many parishes make special efforts asking inactive Catholics to “come home.” Since there are millions of Americans who fit that category, perhaps a more sustained effort is needed — but one in which “home” clearly begins with listening.
The church is what it is: a human thing with all of the stubborn mess that humans can make, but also with all of the hope and goodness and more. Too many Catholics have been affected by the mess. They’re offended by mistakes, incompetence, arrogance, pettiness, the sin they’ve seen in the church. They allow disillusionment to carry them away.
Too many have experienced nothing in the church that feels like liberation. To the contrary, they project onto the discipline of the church the frustrations that come from common limits and restrictions. Or they may prize the “seeker” name and avoid ties of church membership.
Too many have looked for satisfaction from a bare minimum attachment. They may have done nothing more than show up at church for Mass most Sundays. If the music is mediocre, the ritual poorly carried out, the homily forgetful or irritating in some way, what is to keep such a person attached?
For these reasons and more — and sometimes for no apparent reason — too many Catholics have not found spiritual food among us. We need to find out as much as we can about why this happens and the needs of those who walk away. We need to put aside notions we might have about the whys. We need to put aside our thoughts about some of the reasons, thoughts like those in the above paragraphs.
We need to put our own agenda aside and begin by listening. We need to communicate our invitation in such a way that people hear our desire to listen without judgment. And listen. And listen. We should have our message ready when that time comes, but it won’t come at all without a firm commitment to the listening.
We can be attractive when following Jesus’ model of the meek and humble servant. Not so much, though, if we come across as the answer factory.