April 08, 2013

'C&E Catholics' and New Evangelization

By Randy Hain *

They were there at the 7:30 a.m. Mass in my parish on Easter Sunday as well as Masses throughout the day. Faces I had never seen before filled the pews, many finely dressed, just as they had come at Christmas. What draws this group of people these two days each year, what some call “C&E,” Christmas and Easter Catholics? Perhaps it is nostalgia for what they experienced as children – the sort feeling I have for Disney World, where I went as a kid. Or maybe they like the festive Mass and feeling of hope and renewal the seasons bring. Whatever their reasons, they are connected enough to their faith to realize that something important is held in the tradition, even if they do not attend Mass the rest of the year.

I wonder why they fell away and no longer practice their faith, and why they make the effort on these two days to dress up and come to Mass. Is it because they are looking for something, or more importantly, Someone? Are their hearts restless and their lives empty? Do they secretly long for the Church of their childhood memories? Whatever the reasons, let me challenge all of us to stop making fun of these brothers and sisters in Christ, or looking down on them. Shame on us if we do!

We have all heard of the New Evangelization. We are supposed to reach out, in a particular way to those who have already been evangelized and share again with them the Good News. We have countless thousands of Catholics who are not actively practicing their faith marching into our parishes twice a year and we are doing very little to win them back. This group is possibly the most fertile ground for our evangelization efforts. How can we help them?

Five Ways We Can Help “C & E” Catholics

Pray – Let’s pray daily that every Catholic who has fallen away will begin to actively practice the faith, just as we pray for other critical areas in our lives.

Make Christ and the Catholic Church attractive and inviting – This one really hits home because we have to look inside ourselves and ask some difficult questions. Do people see the light of Christ when they look at us? Do we live out our faith in such a joyful way that we make the Catholic Church welcoming and appealing? Are we actually doing what we are asking them to do?

Stop judging and engage, listen and love – Let’s not stand with our arms crossed and a scowl on our faces when we encounter Catholics who have fallen away. We are not perfect and have no right to judge. Let’s engage them at every opportunity and simply listen. Based on what they share, we need to offer a loving response and help them find their way back. We may hear some very difficult and angry words. If so, help connect them to a knowledgeable deacon or parish priest for help and guidance.

Extend an invitation – This seems obvious, but when was the last time we invited someone who has fallen away from the Church to attend Mass? If they are not ready, start with a Bible study or prayer group or simply keep praying until they are ready to make this important step.

Direct them to the Catholics Come Home website (CatholicsComeHome.org) – This ministry’s sole purpose is to help people come back to the Church. The website provides outstanding Church resources and answers to difficult problems. If at all possible, get them to watch any of the powerful world-class videos on the website about the Catholic Church.

This may be helpful information, but how do we actually identify these “C & E” Catholics? Is Christmas and Easter the only time we will see them? No! They are all around us. They work with us, they are our neighbors and we probably see them at our kid’s sporting events. However, we will never know about their faith unless we ask. Sound intimidating? Start by talking about your own life, where you work, your family, your parish. Transparency invites transparency and by sharing first, you can draw them into a meaningful dialogue which involves faith. Your parish priests and deacons may also be able to direct you to people who are struggling with their faith or left the Church. From there you can jump into the five actions listed above.

I know this is not easy, but I promise you someone from an evangelical church is talking to a Catholic about having a personal relationship with Jesus even as you read this. They are describing the incredible music and wonderful sermons as they extend a warm invitation to attend their churches. Meanwhile, here we are in the Church Christ founded, possessing the fullness of the faith and the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the most personal relationship you can have with Christ!), and we are making a mediocre effort. Let’s do something about the Disney-like longing Christmas and Easter Catholics may be experiencing and help them return to an active practice of our beautiful faith.

Randy Hain, Senior Editor and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of three books by Liguori Press: The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith and Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.