Every year at Lent, our pastor charges each one of us to pray for fallen away Catholics and to invite someone we know has been away from the Church to return. One year I decided to invite a neighbor to Mass and I was shocked when she said yes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Today, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to talk to a sibling who has been away from the faith. She sent me one of those semi-religious chain emails. I said "hey, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, you know, any plans to go to confession or Mass?" The response was that she would get ashes tomorrow (what a friend and I would call an A & P Catholic - ashes and palm) but that is the extent of it. I offered to make an appointment with a priest who I know would be glad to hear her confession and she declined. "I don't believe in confession. I haven't been to confession in years and I don't intend to ever go again. It's not necessary." The rest of the conversation was along the lines of "I'm a good person" "what kind of God would send someone to hell because they don't go to church or confession?" "Church is a crutch for people who have nothing else in their life."
Well, when you knock at a door, you have to be prepared for who might answer it. My sister's response was typical of what I often hear from people when I invite them back to church, but it doesn't discourage me. "Look" I said "I'm just going to say this to you and then you do as you wish - first, if someone doesn't know any better and has never been taught the faith, maybe they can get away with just being a good person. But you do know better, and you should know that for you, there is no salvation without the graces given to you in the sacraments." I felt like I was on a bit of a roll, so I continued, recalling something I read in "Come To Me In The Blessed Sacrament." "Just one more thing - I know you remember hearing about Christ's agony in the garden. That agony wasn't just about His impending passion, it was also about the awful knowledge that so many people, just like you, would close the door on Him and treat His love for you with neglect and indifference. So, no, I don't think it's enough to be a "good person". We're also called to be holy people, and without the sacraments and a regular prayer life, you can't be holy."
Then I ended the conversation. I don't know if it had the desired effect, but perhaps a seed was planted. I won't stop praying for her and for others who have thrown their faith away. I think selfishness has a great deal to do with why people don't go to Mass. God is an afterthought, not the focus of their daily lives. I pray that will change. At Lent we are expected to practice charity by giving alms. Perhaps we can all remember to offer spiritual alms, or little sacrifices, for the intention of bringing a stray lamb back into the flock.