The Church alone, being the Bride of Christ and having all things in common with her Divine Spouse, is the depository of the truth. (Saint Pius X)
One of the worst sins a man can commit is to have been a practicing Catholic and then to have left the Catholic faith. To have known the truth and have abandoned it is worse than those who have never known it. So we must urge those who have left the Church to come back. There are a variety of reasons that people use to justify having left the Church. For some its sheer pride, others from scandal in the Church, some become apathetic, others think that any church is as good as another and leave for perceived greener pastures. Still others believe their sins are bigger than God's forgiveness. Whatever the reason one justifies their abandonment of the one true Church Christ established on this earth, it is not a valid one. Lets take a brief look at each of these excuses and expose their fallacy.
1. Pride: Pride is the root of the loss of faith. One who does not believe any longer what Christ teaches through His Church is not pleasing to Him. Pride is the first on the list because it is ultimately what drives any of the excuses one uses to leave the Church. As we know, the author of lies, Satan, is the instigator of pride. He uses any way possible to get people to buy into an excuse to abandon the Catholic faith. Pride is an intellectual arrogance, which we often times cannot see ourselves. We are often blinded by it and need God's grace to see it. This can happen in a variety of ways, most often by someone God sends to deliver His message. The remedy for pride is humility. One must pray for humility and practice it as a virtue to overcome pride. Humility is seeing and accepting truth as it is, on God's terms, not our own. Since God teaches Himself through His Church, humility accepts this truth and submits. Everything God teaches through His Church is so that we may love Him and our fellow man. Pride is always at the root of one leaving the Church.
2. Scandal: We have all heard it before. Ex-Catholics complaining that since there are horrible public sinners in the Church that they have left because of it. The horrible sins of bishops and priests, especially those involving children are certainly cause of grave scandal. These sins are certainly the most understandable reasons for people leaving the Church. Yet, we cannot let the sins of others determine whether or not we will serve God on His terms. Yes, we may have to pull our children out of Catholic schools, even recognizing public schools are also corrupt. We may have to avoid listening to bad spiritual advice or even put up with liturgical abuses. Even this however we must endure, since Christ Himself endures much more suffering than we, and yet He still remains. Although scandals are at all time high for the Catholic Church in our day, we cannot leave the Church because of them. Instead we should endure and look to our own sins so we can come closer to Christ and bring others with us. We know that Christ takes the sin of scandal seriously because He refers to it in Scripture. Our faith in Christ however must be stronger than the scandals we encounter. Catherine of Siena once wrote, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”
3. Apathy: Many Catholics have grown cold to the faith and just stopped going to Mass. This is a very serious condition that Christ calls lukewarmness. “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:15-16) These people still believe in God but they have grown lukewarm. Thus they pray little and have stopped going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They have essentially ceased striving to please God. Apathy is truly a killer of souls. This also ties into the idea that one church is as good as another. Many Catholics falsely believe they can please God by worshiping Him their way instead of His. So they think that hopping the fence and going to a Protestant church is fine. They do not consider that they have cut themselves off from the grace God desires to give them through the Holy Sacraments of the Church. They no longer go Confession or receive His Most precious Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist. In turn they cut themselves off from God's love and grace, rejecting His mercy, which offends Him greatly. St. Catherine again offers us sound advice, "We've been deceived by the thought that we would be more pleasing to God in our own way than in the way God has given us."
4. My Sins are Too Great!: I have heard people say that they have been so bad throughout their lives that God could never forgive them! They say that the church would catch fire if they dared enter. What they do not realize is that this offends God more gravely than any other sin, it is the sin of despair. These people reject the mercy of God. This prideful mentality will lead one to eternal damnation. The mercy of God is greater than any sin man can commit, provided we truly repent of the sin, vowing to never commit it again. This is where the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession comes into play. We go directly to Christ as He acts through the person of the priest in the confessional. This is the ordinary manner which Christ has given for the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. One cannot simply make a personal prayer to God asking for forgiveness without the grace of the Sacrament. This obviously does mean that one should not make an act of contrition before one goes to confession. It does mean however that one should always have the intention of going to confession whenever they commit a serious sin, as well as fulfilling their obligation to go every year. The idea here is that no matter what sin we have committed it is never a valid excuse to abandon God and His Church. I learned a valuable lesson on Christ's mercy on my recent pilgrimage to Poland. You can read about it here. Don't let pride get in the way of God's mercy.
I will close with a story about Saint Padre Pio.
Someone complained to Padre Pio of being excessively distressed by sins he had committed. Padre Pio replied: “That which you feel is pride; it is the demon which inspires you with this sentiment, it is not true sorrow.” The penitent replied: “Father, how can you then distinguish what comes from the heart and is inspired by Our Lord, and that which instead is inspired by the devil?” “You will distinguish it,” replied Padre Pio, “always by this: The spirit of God is a spirit of peace, and also in the case of grave sin, it makes us feel tranquil sorrow, humble, confident, and this is due precisely to His mercy. The spirit of the demon, on the contrary, excites, exasperates, and makes us in our sorrow feel something like anger against ourselves, whereas our first charity must be to ourselves, and so if certain thoughts agitate you, this agitation never comes from God, who gives tranquility, being the Spirit of Peace. Such agitation comes from the devil.”