Coming Back to the Church, Part 1
How to Come Back to the Church
For many people who have left the Catholic Church, they begin to feel a nudge—something pulls them back toward the Church. There are many reasons people may have left the Church. Some have disagreed with Church teachings. Others may have experienced harm from other Catholics. Still others have simply drifted away and fallen out of the habit of going to Mass. But the common thread is the feeling that there is something missing, and that feeling draws them back to the Catholic faith. That is no accident. Each person has a unique, unrepeatable part in God’s plan, and He never stops calling His children back to Him.
If you have been away from the Church (whether for a short time or for many years), it can seem intimidating to come back. Common fears include judgment, being unfamiliar with liturgical changes, feeling out of place, and simply not knowing the practical steps of what to do to come back. While these fears are certainly understandable, they are not true impediments to returning to the Church. In reality, Catholics are overjoyed to welcome you back and are ready to help you make the transition.
If you are thinking about returning to the Church, try following these steps:
1. Find your parish.
If you have not been to church in a while, you might not be sure what parish you should go to or what time Mass is celebrated. The first step is to find your parish. It can be helpful to visit the parish’s website before you go to Mass so that you can confirm Mass times and get acquainted with the community. Some parish websites even have pages dedicated to returning Catholics.
2. Go to confession.
Going to confession is a good spiritual habit for any Catholic, but it is an especially important step for someone returning to the Church. Find out when your parish has confession, and make it a priority. When you go, tell the priest what your situation is and that you want to come back to the Church. He will help you figure out what to do next. If you need a refresher on going to confession, you can read our Confession Guide or learn about how to go back to confession.
3. Attend Mass.
One of the best things you can do to reacquaint yourself with the faith is to go to Mass. If you have not been to Mass in a while, some things may be different. For example, the implementation of the new Roman Missal from 2011 means that some of the prayers and responses have changed (you can learn about these changes in our series of short videos called The New and Eternal Word). You can still participate in the Mass, however. Most churches have books and/or prayer cards so that you can follow along with the prayers and responses and know when to sit, stand, or kneel. As you keep going to Mass, you will become more comfortable with the liturgy. If you are nervous about going to Mass, try starting by watching the CatholicTV Mass.
4. Evaluate where you stand with the sacraments.
The sacraments are a beautiful and unique gift in our faith, and receiving them will do amazing things for your spiritual life. If you have begun by returning to confession, you have already received one of the sacraments. Your faith will flourish when you receive more sacraments. If you have already made your First Communion and you are in a state of grace, receive the Holy Eucharist again at Mass. If you left the Church before making your Confirmation, sign up for your parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program to begin preparing for this sacrament.
5. Engage with a community.
Joining a faith community is an essential part of returning to the Church for many people. A community not only holds you accountable for your decision to come back to the faith, but also provides you the support and fellowship you need to strengthen you on the journey. Your fellow Catholics believe that you don’t have to do this alone, and they want to help you. In some areas, there are groups specifically for Catholics returning to the faith. Even if your area does not have such an organization, you can still get involved with groups in your parish to build community. Options include Bible studies, community service groups, and social organizations.
6. Start building your prayer life.
Being a Catholic means more than just going to Mass on Sunday. Your faith is the foundation of your whole life. At first, this can seem like an overwhelming change to make. But if you start by gradually building your prayer life, you will notice changes that make it easier to transform your life step by step. No one expects you to become a perfect Catholic overnight. If you commit yourself to prayer, though, you will begin to see your faith bearing fruit in your life.
7. Do some spiritual reading.
Try to spend a few minutes each day doing spiritual reading to feed your mind with spiritual nourishment. Scripture is an excellent place to start. You can also try the writings of the saints or other faithful Catholics. Some modern books you might want to try include Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly, Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler, and Returning Home to Your Catholic Faith by Sally Mews.
8. Read the Catechism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an invaluable resource for learning about the faith. It summarizes the Church’s teachings in a way that is concise and accessible. If you have a question about the faith, it is almost certainly answered in the Catechism.
If you are ready to return to the Church, or even just thinking about it, please know that you are in our prayers. As you continue your journey, you will find a helpful resource in Catholics Come Home.
Watch for Part 2 of our series on coming back to the Church, coming next Friday, on how to help your loved ones return to the Church.