Once were Catholics

by Liz Pearce
I read the following by Merepeka Raukawa-Tait in the Daily Post: “I am amazed how often I meet people who ‘once were Catholics’.
You never ask why they left the Church. There will be umpteen reasons why,
just as there are umpteen people. But millions have remained true to their
Catholic faith.”
I wondered — why do I still call myself Catholic? I was born into a Catholic family. Baptised as soon as possible after my birth, for fear I may end up in limbo if I should die. My world was Catholic — almost a ghetto-like mentality. So, I am Catholic by inculturation.
I was educated in Catholic schools, at great financial sacrifice. I did not have a lay teacher until I was 16 years old.
Later, I participated in distance-learning courses, workshops and seminars. And, always, a commitment to self-learning and exploration.
So I am Catholic by education (maybe even indoctrination).
At 15, I had a powerful, mystical experience that confirmed for me the existence of a loving, personal God. Catholic worship provided a vehicle for me to encounter this God, and a foundation from which to explore Love’s nature.
About five years later, I was told by a couple after Mass that they were leaving the Catholic Church because of me — they wanted what I had: an intimate and loving relationship with God. I was bewildered — why were they leaving when the relationship I had existed within the Catholic Church?
So — am I Catholic because I didn’t know anything different?
Years of self-doubt followed, compounded by attendance at a tertiary institution without overt Catholic presence, and increasing social isolation.
I became involved in parish ministry, partly to escape from my situation; partly out of habit; and partly as a desire to belong and to be loved. I delighted in my varied ministries. I delighted in my daily encounters with God.
So — am I Catholic because it offers sanctuary?
Here I am, a woman of mature age, still Catholic, but a fringe dweller. No
longer involved in active, parish-based ministry. No longer distraught at the
decision of others to leave institutional Church. No longer living in fear of a wrathful, punishing God. I use the foundational truths of the Christian faith, my Catholic faith, as a springboard for a love affair with God.
I believe that every human being is a beloved child of God. I believe that every person, whether “Catholic”, “once were Catholic” or “never were Catholic”, encounters the divine. How we identify this encounter, name it or claim it, is unimportant.
I call myself Catholic because it is my culture; the ritual, metaphor, art and liturgy resonate with me; and I believe all the strands that connect me with the divine — Word, sacrament, silence, prayer, art, ecology, social justice — are present within the Catholic Church.
It just doesn’t get it right all the time. It is a large, unwieldly bureaucracy that loathes change. I still practise as a Catholic because:
I need to sit next to others who also love God; I need to praise God, and remember God, in community; I need to see God revealed in humanity; I need to be immersed in God-with-skin-on.
Mainly, I think, I am still Catholic because it is familiar, known, a comfortable fit. Like a long-term marriage, or a favourite jersey well-used, frayed, holey, loved.
Liz Pearce, from Rotorua, is a mother of three adult children, and loves story, writing and dollmaking.

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Reader Interactions


  1. James Codyre says

    I was 15 at the time of the last Vatican Council so remember seeing the soles of the priests Monarch shoes and mumbling the Latin responses as an altar boy.We thought they went to the vernacular ,took the alter rails away, and turned the alter around to give the congregation more connection and involvement in the Mass but now find things slipping backwards.Wife and I still attend weekly but even with the latest missals seem to be lost.

    God save the Catholic Faith.

  2. catharina mcnamara says

    At times those of us once were Catholics return to a Catholic church to find out if things are now different, ” if it’s not right we’ll put it right ” with any of the following:a personal welcome, inspiring music, a priest and Mass that is spiritually uplifting, a hello from anyone in the church, a feeling it’s ok to come back to the Family of the Church.

    Once were Catholics are the people in the desert, a vision of the promised land leading us into another Catholic Church.

    Just welcome us!

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