Who’s responsible for bringing back the church’s lost sheep?

In the Biblical parable, Jesus described a shepherd with a flock of 99 faithful sheep and one rogue sheep. In the church in Australia today, we have the reverse: around 92 missing sheep for every eight sheep going to Mass on Sunday.  

Are they lost? Heck, yes. A Catholic who doesn’t believe in God any longer, or who half-believes and goes to Mass once in a blue moon, is in real spiritual trouble.  

Some people think the solution is to send more clergy out so that they can retrieve the lost sheep. That’s a nice idea, but also a very pre-Vatican II one.  

Vatican II told us that it was actually our job—ordinary lay people. Most of the lost sheep are other ordinary lay people in our own families, schools, and workplaces.  

They might listen to us a lot sooner than they’ll listen to a random priest they don’t know. After the Royal Commission, evangelisation has become harder still for clergy. 

I am all in favour of going after lost sheep. I’m also happy to have an honest conversation about how the sheep got lost in the first place.  

Those with the greatest responsibility in the church had a lot expected of them in return, and they let us down badly. But we were all in it together.  

Often our personal example has been lousy. If being a Catholic makes you that unhappy, then you’re doing it wrong.  

Joy is one of the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to embrace charismatic clapping and clown Masses, but you could try cheering up a bit. 

There are three things you can do immediately for the lapsed Catholics in your life. You can let them go, pray for them, and give them a good lived example.  

God likes us to make a free choice in religion. Vatican II made that very clear. The best way to convince someone of the truths of the faith is not to nag them or terrify them into believing (what US theologian Dr Larry Chapp calls “Hell-cowbell”). 

lay evangelisation - The Catholic Weekly
The prodigal son.

Instead, you need to expose them to the possibilities of a Catholic life well-lived, mainly by living that life yourself.  

Too many people in the church have shared and actively taught the idea that Catholicism is a set of nice aspirations, which can’t actually be lived out.  

Most lapsed Catholics have also been taught their religion as a subject in school which made them dislike it. They’ve never really joined the dots between theory and practice. 

That’s because they’ve never really seen it lived out or heard someone explain with authority how to join those dots.  

It takes exposure to personal good examples to bring the faith home. Those personal examples must start with you.  

This happens best when you’re put in situations where you must learn how to love the sinner but hate the sin. I’m sure you’ve all got family members who you can practise on.  

This is why I’m so glad about Sydney’s Centre for Evangelisation and its Go Make Disciples program. This is exactly what’s needed—lay people, properly prepared to re-evangelise lost sheep.  

Otherwise, we’ll be in another Biblical situation—the one in which the blind are leading the blind, and both fall into a ditch (Mt 15:14). 

Any massgoing Catholic, including you, should also be able to explain their lived faith easily and simply to another person in everyday language, out of a deep inner conviction in its truth.  

There’s a much-overused word for this (“authenticity”) but this is a situation when authentic faith really shines through.  

People hate it when I write about this stuff. They love it when I can point to a clear enemy and say that they’re responsible for the bad times: bad Catholic schools, bad bishops, bad priests, bad nuns, and so forth.  

When I say that the solution lies with each of us working harder on our personal holiness and good example, they tend to go off me a bit.  

This is what too much church politics can do to a Catholic, no matter which side you’re on. It can make you calloused and bitter, and less able to respond to God’s still, small voice. 

In some tragic cases, people have left the church altogether when God refused to conform himself to their preferred religio-political agenda. Please don’t be this person.  

You got together 15,000 people in public on Corpus Christi. That’s 15,000 potential disciples, which is more than the early church had on Pentecost Sunday.  

That’s more than enough to make a jolly good start.  

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