“Ask a Priest: What If I’m Really a Phony?”

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Q: Until last spring I was a practicing Catholic. Then my spiral down began. It started with a phone call from a family member from whom I have been estranged. The conversation was initially friendly, but it soon escalated into name-calling directed at me. I was called a “phony Catholic” who wasn’t fooling anyone. I couldn’t stop thinking about what was said. I wondered why I was so bothered by this — perhaps it might be true. I started feeling self-conscious at Mass. My prayers became few and far between. Then I was injured at work and left with chronic back pain and no job. Thereafter my husband became very ill. He dropped weight dramatically, and I sadly gained the weight he lost. After several months he began to recover but was told the illness is incurable though manageable. During this time, I was put to the test of being a support to my husband — and I was not. I failed my husband by making the situation worse by being frustrated, fearful and thinking of myself. So here I am today, a person who stopped receiving the Eucharist and who chose to let sin and evil in. How do I get back to reconciliation with the Father? – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about the trials that have come along. Perhaps Our Lord has allowed them to enter your life in order to give you a chance to go deeper in your faith and your practice of charity.

You suspect that that family member was right about you being a “phony Catholic.” Let’s say for the sake of argument that there is indeed a pointed weakness in the way your practice your faith. That estrangement from the family member could be a sign that there is a need for forgiveness within the family, perhaps on both sides.

Perhaps, too, the trials of recent months have been a blessing in disguise. For they are like the hurricane winds that batter a house built on sand. The house starts to tumble because of its shaky foundation. If you perceive that you haven’t lived the faith sincerely, then that very recognition is a kind of grace. That means you at least are seeing yourself in a true light.

So what to do? The first thing, in a word, is to be humble.

If you have made mistakes, even chronic mistakes, just recognize that. And then consider making a good confession, perhaps a general confession of your life.

The grace of the sacrament will help you put things in perspective. It might help you recall that you are a beloved daughter of God, and there is no reason to think you are lost. You only need to repent, to have confidence in God, and to return to the sacraments. Carve out ample time for prayer each day, too.

On the human side, it sounds as though you have been through a lot physically and emotionally these past months. Chronic pain can wear down a person, and the devil is quick to fan the flames of discouragement.

Without knowing more about your situation, I would suggest the sacramental route as a good start. Having a regular confessor or spiritual director might help. The important thing is to stay close to Jesus in prayer and the Eucharist. With him by your side and in your heart, any cross can be carried.

By the way, you might find our retreat guide “From Sorrow to Joy” helpful in preparing for confession. Another helpful guide might be “A Cure for Discouragement.”

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