Today a friend was telling me of how she had patiently shared the faith with another, and now her friend (let's call her 'Jane') has decided to join the RCIA program! She's becoming Catholic! When my friend told me this, I just about leapt for joy, because BOTH people were living out their Call: one was evangelizing; putting her "lamp on a lampstand" (Matthew 5:15), and the other was responding to God's love for her. It made me so happy. But if I, merely human, am smiling and praising and thanking God for changing Jane's heart (and her responding to that love), think of how much the saints and angels are rejoicing!
In fact, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). This person, "Jane," has decided to begin a conscious journey with the graces bestowed through the Catholic Church towards Christ. Jane is becoming a family member. At her baptism, she will be adopted as a beloved daughter of God.
There is sure to be joy when someone comes to the Church. But if something like that causes heaven to rejoice, conversely, someone leaving the Church must cause sadness. It definitely makes me sad. Because when a person leaves the Church, they are cutting themselves off from grace and love, from the sacraments, the prayers, the mass, the communion. They are rejecting God's free, undeserved help to become perfect.
As a family, we are called to comfort each other, and support each other. A person walking out of THE family makes me want to scream, "no no no! You don't know what you're missing out on!" They're walking away from Christ's promises:
"I Am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).
"I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
"I am the Gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture" (John 10:9).
"I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
"I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everone who lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
"I am the Vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
That looks like a pretty awesome list...why would we want anyone to miss out on it? Especially if we are one of the fortunate who are already experiencing the benefits of those promises! Jesus says "I am" and in essence, those who have left the Church have replied, "I think you might be lying." These people are the lost coins, the prodigal sons, the lost sheep. Christ loves them enough to leave the ninety-nine to find the one. We should love them that much too; love them enough to see that however wonderful and amazing these people are on their own, they can be so much more amazing when God walks with them, and with all of us, as one big happy family.
So to all those who have left the Family of the Church: please come home. We miss you.