One of the things I most enjoy during visits with my family in Southern California, is visiting the little beach town nearby. Main Street lies between Pacific Coast Highway and the pier and is lined with restaurants, cafes, pubs, boutiques, ice cream parlors and art galleries. The shops are all individually owned and have a low profile, preserving the small town community feel of the place.
On a recent visit, my little girl and I turned in to a shop that sold art and nick knacks all about angels. I noticed a good many statues and pictures of St. Francis and the Blessed Mother as well, and wondered if the owner might be Catholic. I asked the lady behind the counter. She was the owner and said, “Yes, I’m a strong Catholic!”
“Perfect!” I thought. I asked if she happened to know if there was a Saturday evening Mass at the church, which is just one street over (we had only been there for Sunday morning Masses in the past). She said she did not know the schedule, as it was not her parish; she went to the church a few towns down the coast, though her mother is a parishioner at this one. Well, as I love her church as well, I asked if hers has a Saturday evening Mass. She did not know.
You see, she only went to Mass on Christmas. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went from there, but it must have involved my mouth hanging open or something, because she assured me several times that she is “a strong Catholic.” I mean, she must be, right, because she has a shop just for things about angels?
Everyone’s favorite line from the movie, The Princess Bride, passed through my mind: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” But I refrained from letting it pass by my lips.
I’m sure I urged her to consider more frequently availing herself of the source and summit of her Faith – because that’s the kind of person I am (i.e. one who spurts out things on any occasion). But, she has to keep her shop running and that takes most of her time. She must be very busy, because she admitted she doesn’t even always have time for yoga!
We walked out and uttered a prayer that this lady would grow in her faith and feel a longing to return to the Sacraments.
I’m sure we all know or come across people who grew up Catholic and still identify with the Church, but don’t seem to know or do a thing about it. They haven’t left the Church, but they’re not in it. It’s like they have fallen overboard from a ship and are floating along in a life preserver. The name of the ship is printed on the life preserver, so they still feel connected. And they have no idea what they are missing or at what peril they are drifting out to sea.
It was so astonishing to me and I still think about her (and pray for her). How can someone be so sure and proud of her affiliation with the Catholic Faith, but simply refuse to respond to the invitation Jesus issues to live it?
Somewhere something went wrong with the catechesis people like her received. Probably, they were never evangelized. I’m not the first person to consider the cause. Who knows? But what can we do for them now? There may be many answers to this (start discussions about the Faith, give a good example, challenge them) and they differ for each person. But the one thing we can do for every person we meet in this situation is to pray for them.
And yet, though this is a sad state of things, it is also a sign of great hope. The angel lady has not left the Church. She still sees herself as connected in a “strong” way. She feels she has a relationship with God through His Church. And she does. She has surely neglected it and is missing out on the riches He offers. But hope knows that there is a rope connecting her life preserver to the ship, the bark of Peter. And she will be drawn in, unless she herself cuts this line.
This is illustrated through Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited. As her father lies on his deathbed, resisting reconciliation with God, Julia explains to Charles how G.K. Chesterton shows this theme in his Father Brown mystery (I know, I’m trying to explain someone in a novel explaining a novel to illustrate my point!): “Father Brown said something like ‘I caught him’ [the thief] with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
In Brideshead, her father did, ultimately reconcile (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s still well worth reading). This is not merely fiction. It happens in real life again and again. We can count on it when we pray and trust in God’s mercy. Our heavenly Father, more than anyone else, desires that these stray sheep return to His fold. In the context of the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Our Lord says, “And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.”(Jn. 6;39)
You see, we were made for union with God and are attracted to Him. Why do you think the angel lady’s shop is devoted to angels and contains statues of the Mother of Our Lord? Her heart is yearning for God, but she has been distracted by other things at present. A twitch upon the thread will bring her back.
It is as St. Augustine famously said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.”
The entirety of the quotation from Augustine’s Confessions is too beautiful not to put down here. And as you read it, I ask that you make it a prayer, a twitch upon the thread, for all those who are drifting about in the lukewarm sea in life preservers with the name of the Church indelibly stamped on them. That they may not be lost, but shall rise again on the last day.
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”