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“Ask a Priest: Is There a Chance for Me, a Lukewarm Catholic?”
Q: My mother passed away when I was very young, and my father’s faith is not non-existent but I wouldn’t call him a practicing Catholic. There were years when we didn’t go to Mass at all. Now, my aunt, God bless her, takes us to Saturday evening Mass every week. It’s an incredible blessing. However, I feel like I am failing God. I’m not exactly well-versed in my faith. I often feel stupid for not knowing certain things. I recently found a catechism in my home, and I wish to read it, but I’m worried I might not understand it. I’m also deeply wounded. I feel like a fake person. I haven’t actually prayed outside of Mass in a long time. I have no excuse; I just don’t do it. I think so lowly of myself for hurting God. A little over a year ago I began my first romantic relationship, and I plan to marry him. He is not baptized into the faith, but he often attends Mass with us whenever his mother permits (she is not Catholic), and he truly loves the Catholic faith. I’m trying to teach him the ways of the Church and help him and myself, but sometimes I feel like I am doing more harm than good. We have not slept together and both have no desire to do so before marriage, but his previous lifestyle has influenced us to sin against chastity. I’m very afraid I’m giving him a bad example by not being strong enough to dismiss the devil. I’m sorry this is so rambling and not even really a question, but I don’t know where to turn. I’ve committed mortal sin, and usually my aunt can only take us to confession twice a year. I’ve also been receiving Communion in this state out of shame. That piles on even more guilt. I allow the devil to trick me into depths of self-hatred because of my sins. I don’t know. I should be getting my license in November and then I’ll be able to attend confession whenever necessary. But I am also scared that my confession may not be contrite because I wanted these sins at the time. I sometimes worry it would be more insulting to Jesus if I were to confess them. I just want to be in the light of God again. I know it’s where I belong. -M.A.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You need to be assured that, first and foremost, you are a beloved daughter of God, and he wants you to be happy and holy. Moreover, he will give you the grace to get back on course with your life. You just need to respond positively to his promptings.
From what you say, it seems as if the Holy Spirit is already working in your life in a beautiful way. Your aunt is helping you and your dad get to Mass. You feel the urge to read the Catechism and learn more about your faith. You recognize that your prayer life shouldn’t be restricted to the time of Mass. You found a young man who is open to the Catholic faith, and you both want to avoid physical intimacy before marriage. All these are positive signs.
So how might you proceed from here?
A good first step is to rectify your relationship with God as best you can. At the very least, that means refraining from Communion until you can get to confession again.
So long as a person is sorry for her sins — even sins she enjoyed committing in the moment — and she makes a firm resolution to move on and improve, then any sin is forgivable.
The important thing is to prepare your confession well and to approach the sacrament knowing that Jesus is waiting to extend his mercy to you. Online guides to confession can help you. There is no need at all to worry that you will offend the Lord by confessing your sins. On the contrary! He actually invented this sacrament precisely because he knew we would need it.
Confidence in God’s mercy will also help you immensely. At this point, when you realize that you want to change your life and get closer to God, the devil will try to dissuade and discourage you. Be on guard! Thoughts about being unworthy of God’s mercy and about being useless are not coming from the Holy Spirit. Those kinds of negative thoughts are from somewhere else.
What would be helpful is to draw up a plan for your spiritual life. Some key points worth considering are the following:
First, make time for prayer every day, preferably right after you wake up, and then some prayers at night, before you go to sleep. That nighttime prayer can include what we call an examen of conscience. Ask yourself how you lived the day. Is there anything you should have avoided? Is there anything you neglected to do? How will you try to improve tomorrow?
Remember, too, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the good things God gave you during the day. That will help to remind you how close he is to you. You might consider praying a decade of the rosary each day (online guides will help). Pray for your dad and your boyfriend too.
Second, look for every chance to get to confession. Maybe a neighbor could drive you for the time being. After a good confession you can receive Communion with a clear conscience.
Third, keep studying about the faith. If the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems a bit heavy, then consider reading the Compendium to the Catechism which has a question-and-answer format. Or check out the Youth Catechism.
Fourth, try to help your boyfriend learn more about the faith. And try to come up with a plan to help the both of you live chastely. One of the truest ways of showing love for another person is to help that person grow in holiness. Here is a website that might help you.
As you become more mobile, and can get to the parish more often, try to get involved in church-related activities. It is easier to live the faith within a community.
Stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary, too. She is a great intercessor who can help you draw closer to her son, Jesus. She will help you to use your womanly heart to bring those you love closer to Christ — and perhaps lead to that day when you and all your loved ones, including your mom, could be reunited in heaven.
Count on my prayers for you at Mass. God bless you!