Bishop offers new hope for those fallen away from the Faith

2 mins read
fallen away Catholics

“We get to the resurrection of Christ through the wounds of this life.”

By themselves, these words of Bishop Frank Caggiano, the ordinary of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops‘ Subcommittee on the Catechism, may not seem that remarkable. They are a distillation of the Catholic understanding of the redemptive nature of suffering, a recognition that our physical, spiritual and emotional travails in this life can draw us more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s own sacrifice and, through that mystery, allow us to rise again with him to new life.

What was remarkable, however, was the context in which Bishop Caggiano spoke these words. During a question-and-answer session at the recent Institute on the Catechism convocation at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, Bishop Caggiano was addressing an all-too-common concern today: that of parents and grandparents who have seen their children fall away from the Faith.

And in that context, the words took on an added meaning, because, as Bishop Caggiano explained, the common experience of so many of those who have fallen away from the Faith today is woundedness. On the surface, his words applied to those of us in the room, as they do to all Christians; but he was specifically addressing the experience of those who have fallen away, and offering hope to those who love them and grieve for them and pray for them, and who blame themselves for the present spiritual condition of their children, often to their own spiritual detriment, as they allow themselves to be led into despair.

New vistas of hope

Bishop Caggiano’s point was simple yet profound: The woundedness of those who have been baptized into Christ and yet have fallen away may itself be, by the mercy of God, a participation in the mystery of redemptive suffering. That we may not know how those who have distanced themselves from the Church can still participate in that mystery does not mean that they cannot. Recognizing that possibility opens up new vistas of hope for those of us whose hearts have been broken as our children have drifted from Christ and his Church, or even renounced their belief.

“The woundedness of those who have been baptized into Christ and yet have fallen away may itself be, by the mercy of God, a participation in the mystery of redemptive suffering.”

It is natural for parents to blame themselves when their children fall from the Faith. We know that there is always something more that we could have done to draw our children closer to Christ. Their woundedness is rarely entirely external to the family; our sins of omission and commission formed them just as deeply as the ruined culture in which we live, and in most cases even more deeply. I know of no parents whose children have fallen away from the Faith who believe that they did everything right in those formative years when the spiritual development of their children was entirely in their hands.

God’s grace and mercy

That is because we, too, are wounded and broken, oftentimes in ways that we only begin to recognize when our days of childrearing are drawing to a close, or perhaps have already ended. And then the cycle of regret begins, because we live in a culture thoroughly suffused with the lie that everything depends on us, and nothing on the grace and mercy of God.

Bishop Caggiano’s insight does not absolve us of our sins of omission and commission, which, alongside our acts of love, helped form the character of our children. Our sins have wounded us, too, and to rise above those wounds — or, more properly, to unite those wounds to the suffering of Christ — we must seek forgiveness as we come to acknowledge those sins. But recognizing the deep woundedness that rends the hearts of our children who have fallen from the Faith, and seeing in it a possible participation in the mystery of redemptive suffering, allows us to pray with hope that God, who in his great goodness and bountiful mercy works all things to the good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28), will use that participation to draw our loved ones back to Christ and his Church.

Scott P. Richert

Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.