Reflection & Dialogue: Searching for the lost sheep and the prodigal son today
It was once easy to identify “lost sheep” and have a ministry to them. They were lapsed, or non-practising, Catholics. Certain zealous members of some Catholic organizations might seek them out and attempt to bring them back to the practice of there faith. They might also be visited by preachers during parish missions. Matters are notably different in our own day. Many Catholics give up the practice of their religion at an early date. Some are just “lapsed” and go no further, remaining believers to a greater or lesser degree. But together with these there is now a growing denial of belief in God, and a tendency to make this denial public, as if such belief were incompatible with a truly human life. And with this goes denial of belief in any afterlife. This explicit denial can be pronounced among the literati and learned class. It is not new, and has in history tended to accompany high points in physics and literature. We have a good example of it in the biblical Book of Wisdom (2:2-3), composed about 30 B.C., where the ungodly are made to say: “the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air”. For believers, the loving Father in heaven continues to address his saving message to all these, and it will be for believers to make this message known as befits each occasion. Rejection, real or apparent, of the Church among the young can come about from a variety of causes. With these in mind, it is good to pay attention to surveys done on the attitude of the young towards the Catholic faith. Some of their difficulties arise from an incorrect understanding of certain points of doctrine, such as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or in consecrated hosts. The task of bringing the message of God’s loving concern to the many groups in our own day is a daunting one, but not one to despair of, since the chief agent at work will be none other than God, the loving Father and Jesus Christ present in our world in a variety of ways.