If it is not a requirement to be a Catholic to enter heaven then what can we say to fallen-away Catholics to bring them back to the faith if they are good, practicing Christians? What can we say to keep Catholics in the faith and not go astray?
The fact that it’s not a requirement to be Catholic to enter heaven only applies to those who are not accountable for being non-Catholic. For example, God would not demand Catholicity from an Indian in the Amazon jungle who had never even heard of Christ. But, the fallen-away Catholic, he has heard of Christ. More than that, he has received the fullness of Truth in the Church of Christ. He has turned his back on the Sacraments and our Eucharistic Lord. Jesus tells us, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk 12:48). We have indeed been given much in this Catholic faith of ours, and when the master comes on a day we do not expect and an hour we do not know, we must be able to show him that we have been good stewards of it all.
Thus, it is a very serious thing to leave the Catholic Church, but we must also be as empathetic as possible with those of us who have decided to go elsewhere. It is often a very complicated set of circumstances that forces people to leave the Church. A lot of heartache and misunderstanding is usually involved. We have to listen to their story, let them have their say, and then patiently and charitably explain to them what is worthwhile and wonderful about the Catholic faith.
That is also, consequently, what I think encourages people to stay Catholic. That’s why I started the “Catholic Q&A” in the first place: to help people to see what is so Good, Beautiful, and True about this Church of which we are members. Some people are convinced by logic and reasoning, and there is certainly a place for that. But, all people are convinced by true happiness and joy. Let them hear the various arguments in support of Catholic doctrine, but let them also see a smile on your face. Let them see you get choked up over a Scripture verse. Let them see your peace as you return from Confession. Let them see your quiet reverence in the house of the Lord.
This doesn’t mean putting on a show. It means being in love with the Lord and unabashedly Catholic. Such a witness is usually of tremendous reassurance for those who have left the Church, those who may possibly join, and all of us members who need a reminder from time to time of just how blessed we are.
If this happiness, this peace, this reverence is not yours, then pray for it and strive for it. We have to convert our own hearts and minds before we can convert the hearts and minds of others.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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