In the coming weeks, the Landings process to welcome returning Catholics will begin in Singapore, Malaysia, and the USA. ‘Returning’ Catholics are those who are contemplating a return after being away from church and their faith community. The key principles of this process are “welcoming”, “non-judgmental” and “compassion”. These are brought to light in last Sunday’s Gospel.
“‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.”
Often, maybe more so in the past, the advice given to someone who wants to return is, “Go for your confession”. And it was just left at that, somewhat expectant for God to take over. The would be returning Catholic today who hears this advice, may feel somewhat judged and condemned. The human person has evolved and with that, her views, expressions, reactions, and responses. Because of this evolvement, returning in today’s context is no longer as simple as “go for confession”. Returning is now a contemplative process.
This process can begin in a simple way, perhaps over a cup of coffee. It is helpful to have a conversation between the returning Catholic and someone from a ministry such as Landings. Returning Catholics need to be compassionately listened to. Here, for we to be church, we must open the door to welcome without judgment or condemnation. This conversation is the first meeting of two calls; one called to return, one called to minister. This fusion is the work of the Holy Spirit.
If the Church was a business entity, all resources would be channelled into this mission. This is a ‘growing market’, there are more and more people who have drifted away from Church. At some point in their life, they would want to return. Today we need to build more of such ministries, opening more doors of mercy and compassion for tomorrow, if not for ourselves, then for our own young who are wandering away. So, we need more of the laity to step into this ministry to welcome returning Catholics.
Sometimes it is not for the lack of will or desire but the lack of spiritual self-esteem. Often, we the laity do not feel qualified to do this. “I do not know enough”. The initial phase of a returning process is never about teachings. It is more often about meeting the returning Catholic in their emotional needs. Most are apprehensive and unsure, some bordering on unworthiness and crippling guilt. They too lack self-esteem. In this situation it is the church (who we are) who need to reach out to them to accompany them on their journey back.
The journey begins not with judgement and condemnation but instead with affirmation and encouragement. We cannot say “we don’t know enough” because all of us know how to love. In this love, the Holy Spirit moves.
Participating in this ministry will help us grow in this love, and we experience the elusive fulfilment of our earthly life. This is affirming and encouraging for our own spiritual self-esteem, and it can begin with a simple act of love by sharing time for coffee with someone who need to be listened to.
“Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time