How do we respond to the lapsed?
Daily, I receive phone calls and emails from parents attempting every trick in the book to attempt to get their child into this year’s sacramental programmes. The list is open from April through to the end of June. Same as every year. Every communication brims with the same kind of excuses: “We’re away most weekends, I haven’t seen the newsletter”; “We attend such-and-such a church (usually C of E) whenever we’re away!”; “I’m sure you must know me, I used to read at the Saturday evening Mass”; “I had no idea the deadline was in June!”
Ask any parishioner – these announcements are made clearly (and tediously) every single weekend for months on end. The only conclusion I think we can come to is that these are not Mass-goers.
So how do we respond when your initial reaction is to give a blunt suggestion that they need to practise their faith? Allowing them onto the programme, from past experience of similar families who somehow fudge their way through, does not work, and causes distress for the catechist and the child when it is clear they are not coming to Mass at weekends and that the teaching is not supported at home.
My approach this year has been the firm but friendly email. I tell them that such-and-such a church is not Catholic and if they have any confusion about it, by all means, come in for a chat. I encourage them that the absolute best thing they can do for their child is start coming to Mass every week and then decide about the First Communion. I give them information on refresher courses in the Catholic faith which would be a great way back into practising again.
I wish I could say these little encounters end in the ‘happy-ever-after’ picture above… Sadly, this is rarely the case. Occasionally these warm, welcoming emails result in accusations that our parish is not “Christian” and they will go somewhere else, thank you very much. And at this announcement, I’m actually rather glad.